Posted on: March 30, 2020 at 2:07 pm

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to grip the countries around the world, hospitals everywhere are facing extreme pressure to keep up with the onslaught of patients showing up at their doors.

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As the pandemic continues to worsen throughout the Western world, more and more hospitals are experiencing shortages of important supplies, like ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE), that are not only crucial for keeping critically ill patients alive, but also for protecting front-line healthcare workers themselves from contracting the virus.

As healthcare facilities across the country begin running out of face masks and protective gowns, nurses and doctors are being forced to risk their own safety in order to treat the unprecedented number of COVID-19 patients requiring medical attention.

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NYC Nurse Dies

Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, the epicenter of the COVD-19 outbreak in the United States, is facing severe shortages of PPE. Nurses at the hospital have resorted to using Hefty-brand trash bags in place of protective gowns and reusing face masks that are designed to be used once only [1].

Without proper protective equipment, these workers, who come into close contact with COVID-19 patients on a daily basis, are at significant risk for contracting the virus. Sadly, this was the case for Kious Kelly, an assistant nursing manager at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Kelly, who was 48 years old, had tested positive for the virus nearly two weeks ago, but reportedly did not think it was that serious. Mount Sinai Health System representative, Renatt Brodsky, expressed the hospital’s reaction.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of a beloved member of our nursing staff,” he said in a statement [1].

Kelly’s death adds to the more than 950 deaths that have already occurred in New York State, where there are now nearly 60 thousand confirmed cases of the virus [2].

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Read: Almost half of coronavirus patients have digestive symptoms, study finds

The Problem With Inadequate PPE

Since the outbreak began, governments and health officials have harped on two major things everyone must do in order to avoid contracting the COVID-19 virus: wash your hands and practice social distancing.

Nurses and front-line health care workers, of course, are unable to maintain the recommended six feet of distance between themselves and the patients who are in their care [3]. For this reason, it is crucially important that they wear the proper equipment required to protect them from contracting the virus.

In the Lombardy region of Italy, one of the hardest-hit areas in the world, between March 11 and March 17 alone, more than 2 500 healthcare workers tested positive for COVID-19. The situation there has gotten so bad that student doctors are being rushed to graduation to help support the system, and former nurses and doctors are being asked to come out of retirement to help fight the virus [4].

With the number of cases soaring in the United States, health officials fear that the US healthcare system is headed down the same road. Doctors around the country are anxious, afraid that they will contract the virus and then pass it on to their families.

Dr. Faezah A. Bux, an anesthesiologist in central Kentucky, recently had to intubate several elderly patients in respiratory distress without wearing the necessary PPE, such as a respiratory mask and protective eye gear.

“There’s absolutely no way to protect myself,” he said. “Not only can I not protect myself, I can’t protect my patients.” [5]

Why is there a shortage in the United States?

There are multiple factors causing the shortage of PPE in the United States, one of them being the global supply chain.

Before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, China produced about half of all face masks worldwide, but as the infection there worsened, they stopped all export of the masks. Since the infection has slowed down in China, they have begun sending masks as a part of goodwill packages to countries around the world, but the US hasn’t been a major recipient.

The situation has gotten so bad that the CDC has recommended that once PPE supplies are depleted, staff should use scarves and bandanas to protect themselves [6].

Relations between the two countries have been precarious, and while the Whitehouse has said they are not too proud to accept assistance from China, this tension has slowed down the process of receiving equipment made in China [7].

Panic-buying by the general public has also contributed to the shortage for healthcare workers, despite the fact that experts say they are ineffective for the general population, but crucial for those working in hospital settings [8].

Read: I’m one of 4 percent that coronavirus might kill. What you do today could save my life

Other Companies Stepping Up

Healthcare professionals across the country have begun crowdsourcing for more PPE, using the hashtag #getmePPE, and hospitals have been asking for donations from anyone who might have their own PPE, such as construction workers, spa workers, and dentists [9].

Large companies, like Ford, have teamed up with mask-making company 3M and GE Healthcare to increase the production of PPE and ventilators. 

“We have empowered our teams of engineers and designers to be scrappy and creative to quickly help scale up production of this vital equipment,” said Ford President and CEO, Jim Hackett [10].

Tech billionaires such as Apple CEO Tim Cook, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg have committed to donating millions of masks to help ease the shortage, and footwear companies like New Balance and Nike have begun using their production facilities to produce face masks and shields to be distributed around the country [11,12].

The founder of Dyson, James Dyson, has recently released a statement that the company has designed and built a new ventilator, called CoVent, and has received an order from the UK government to produce ten thousand units. 

According to the company, the new design is meant specifically to address the needs of a COVID-19 patient, and that it can be manufactured quickly, efficiently, and at volume [13].

Pictures: COVID-19 Patients Struggle to Stay in Contact with Family or Even Say Goodbye Before Dying

How Can You Help?

The number one way, of course, that you can help is to stay at home and practice social distancing to help slow the spread down to a rate that is manageable for our healthcare system. As the crisis continues to head toward its peak, however, it is crucial that you do not hoard face masks for personal use. Unless you are sick, you generally do not need them, and they are crucial for our front-line healthcare workers.

If you, or anyone you know, have access to any form of PPE, you should contact your local hospital right away, and they will give you direction.

Alternatively, you can visit GetUsPPE.org for detailed instructions, including specifications for items that are needed the most, as well as how to get them to donation sites [14].

Although uncertain times such as these can be scary, and it may be tempting to want to keep these items for yourself and your family, it is during situations like this when everyone needs to band together as a country and support the people on the front-lines such as doctors and nurses.

If everyone does the right thing, we can defeat this virus and prevent thousands of people from dying unnecessarily, and the sooner we do this, the sooner we can resume life as it once was.

Keep Reading: How Will The Coronavirus Pandemic Come To An End?

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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