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Health workers fear new shortages of protective equipment

Health care workers faced severe shortages of face masks, gowns and other protective equipment at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, and they're afraid it's happening again now.

Why it matters: Hospitals, nursing homes and physician clinics need this equipment to protect themselves and to avoid spreading infection. Supplies are already stretched thin, and will likely get thinner as the coronavirus and flu season converge in the fall.


What they're saying: Health care workers are sounding the alarms that they have to reuse masks and other supplies, and are worried their grievances are going unnoticed again.

  • Maria Serda, a respiratory therapist at an HCA Healthcare hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, said even though cases and hospitalizations are rising in the state, staff are limited to one N95 mask per day, and gowns are being monitored now, too.
  • "I just wanna make sure I don't get sick, or my coworkers don't get sick," Serda said.

The state of play: Many medical providers have said their supplies of masks, face shields, testing supplies and other equipment are "adequate" — which is a few rungs better than the spring, when workers at some facilities had to fashion gowns out of garbage bags.

Yes, but: "The supply chains concerns haven't been addressed," said Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association.

  • “Supply is still coming in, but not enough to meet demand," one industry official told the House Committee on Oversight and Reform earlier this month.

It's a lot worse for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, which are "begging for PPE," an official with the American Health Care Association told Axios.

  • More than 40% of U.S. coronavirus deaths are tied to nursing homes.
  • PPE and disinfectants "simply are not readily available from the usual sources our physicians use," the American Medical Association warned in June.

The bottom line: Even Vice President Mike Pence, who has painted a consistently rosy picture of the country's coronavirus response, acknowledged some supply issues.

  • "We are 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 to reuse the PPE supplies," he said last week.

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