Current lack of PPE puts emergency department staff at risk of contracting COVID-19
Monday, March 23, 2020
Mere days into the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, it was quickly apparent the nation's supply of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers (PPE) was grossly inadequate. PPE is the best barrier between caregivers and patients with positive or suspected cases of the highly contagious virus.
Doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and other front-line staff are being asked to ration or even reuse PPE, such as N-95 masks, face shields, goggles and surgical masks.
“There are folks who say that every night they take the mask home, they spray both sides with bleach and they hang it up to dry and they hope that's gonna work. So it's pretty bad,” Laura Wooster, associate executive director of public affairs at the American College of Emergency Physicians, told The Hill.
If a caregiver is exposed to COVID-19, he or she must self-quarantine for 14 days. That requirement takes needed staff away from the patient bedside and risks bring the virus home to their own family members.
Bonnie Castillo, the executive director for National Nurses United, said a lack of coordination between local, state and federal agencies will lead to more nurses being exposed.
"Their heart is aching," Castillo told ABC News. "The anger is increasing because they know that there's no reason for this. They love taking care of crises; that's what they do. But to not have the protections that they need in order to do it is becoming increasingly frustrating."
NNU represents 150,000 registered nurses across the U.S.
"Nurses are working with inadequate protections, and that ranges from head coverings, respirators, appropriate gowns, covers for their legs and their feet," Castillo said. "Instead, [they] are being given a surgical mask, a paper gown and a pair of surgical gloves. That is not going to protect the nurse and it's not going to protect anyone else."
Some ER physicians characterized the situation as "flying blind," both in terms of PPE and the availability of tests.
“As of today, I have had it,” said Dr. Margaux Snider, director of emergency services at Arroyo Grande Community Hospital in California. “I am willing to be on the record. We need supplies, and we need the public to take this seriously. I’m willing to lose my job before my life.”
On March 18, President Donald Trump said his administration had ordered 500 million N-95 masks, which filter out 95% of particles from the air. In the meantime, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested nurses use bandanas and scarves in place of medical PPE.
“I am deeply disillusioned with a country that is unwilling to protect the people that stand between them and death, risking our lives seemingly without concern,” Snider said.
Snider said the availability of PPE is especially important for ER docs since they encounter patients before a diagnosis is made and may get sicker than the average person quicker. “PPE matters the most,” she said.
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