As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, frontline health care workers are running dangerously low on gear like masks, gloves and hospital gowns.
Personal protective equipment, or PPE, has become increasingly valuable: Last week, a 42-year-old Oregon man was arrested for stealing 8,000 N95 respirator masks from a hardware store in Portland and advertising them for sale on Craigslist. Hospitals have begun soliciting donations from the community—even asking for hand-sewn masks—and Oregon's largest corporate employer, Intel, announced March 23 that it would donate 1 million protective items to health care workers to shield them from the virus.
WW asked some of Portland's frontline health care workers about the status of PPE in their hospitals.
J.R. McLain, registered nurse at Providence Portland:
"We have been able to get gloves and gowns so far, but are told they are running out fast. N95 masks are like gold and being reused as much as possible. We get one surgical mask per shift that is being turned in for sterilization and reuse at the end of each shift. We are running low on disinfectant products as well. When this really hits, we will likely stay in the same mask, gowns and gloves for the entire shift."
Dr. Smitha R. Chadaga, internal medicine doctor in Portland:
"In terms of how our PPE is here, right now we have it, but we are going to great lengths to conserve it. The supply chain stops here. We don't see any sign that the government is getting anything in anytime soon. Without having some sort of federal response, we are looking at having to make these constant changes. We are not at the point [of reusing masks]. I am hearing from other people that they are doing that. I am worried. It's a level of anxiety that I've never had. I graduated from medical school 20 years ago, and I have never had to think, 'Do I have the supplies to do my job? Will I be safe to do my job?'"
Dr. Erika Moseson, pulmonologist at Legacy Good Samaritan:
"Anytime someone's [potentially exposed to airborne pathogens], you have to be 'fit tested'— the mask has to physically fit you. They squirt bad-tasting and good-tasting stuff, and if you can smell it, you say it's a fail. For me, I have 'failed' the fit test, so I can't use any of these masks that we have. Right now, I can only use the PAPRs [helmets that cover the full head]. It's great that everyone's donating all this stuff, but I'm wondering about those of us who need to use PAPRs. It doesn't mean all of these things donated wouldn't fit me. The PAPRs pretty much universally fit, because they're a whole space hood air moving system."