COVID-19 Protective Gear Shortages Arise Again

Carolyn Crist

July 10, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

As the U.S. logs record-high numbers of new COVID-19 cases, doctors and public health officials have raised concerns again about the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) while working with contagious patients.

Masks, gloves, and gowns are in short supply at hospitals, nursing homes, and medical practices. In some places, medical workers are reusing their single-use supplies, even though it could increase their risk for infection, according to The New York Times . For some offices, such as dental practices and cancer specialists, this means not reopening their doors.

"We have kids living with grapefruit-sized abscesses for over 3 months who can't eat or drink and there's nothing we can do for them because we can't get PPE," Kay Kennel, the chief officer of Lubbock Kids Dental in Texas, told the newspaper.

Nonprofit groups have struggled to provide the necessary supplies as well. The Good Samaritan Society, for instance, is trying to stock its 200 nursing homes with masks, gowns, and hand sanitizer.

"It's been chaos for us," Randy Bury, president of Good Samaritan, told the newspaper. "The supply chain in the United States is not healthy, and we've learned we cannot depend on the government."

Several doctors and medical groups have spoken up about the need for more supplies. The American Medical Association urged the federal government to use the Defense Production Act to require manufacturers to produce more.

"Without adequate PPE, physician practices may have to continue deferring care or remain closed, which will continue to have a dramatic impact on the health of their patients," the association wrote in a June 30 letter to Vice President Mike Pence.

Nurses have also posted their concerns online about being instructed to reuse supplies, according to The Washington Post . National Nurses United, a union that represents registered nurses, has called for a national response.

"A lot of people thought once the alarm was sounded back in March surely the federal government would fix this, but that hasn't happened," Deborah Burger, the union president and a California nurse, told the newspaper.

Government officials have sent mixed messages about protective gear, highlighting the need for face coverings but also not providing clear information on how and when more will be delivered. On Wednesday, Pence said new guidelines would be issued soon about the reuse of supplies.

"PPE, we hear, remains very strong," he said during a press briefing. "But we're encouraging health care workers to begin now to use some of the best practices that we learned in other parts of the country to preserve and reuse the PPE supplies."

At the federal level, FEMA is tasked with distributing supplies to health care facilities and nursing homes. The 14-day shipments run out quickly, though, which has prompted volunteer groups such as GetUsPPE to source protective gear, according to The New York Times.

"I feel horrible for the health care workers and hospitals that are dealing with this," Ali Raja, MD, an emergency room doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital who founded GetUsPPE, told the newspaper. "They are crying out for help."

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