Once again, the U.S. is running short on medical gear to fight the coronavirus

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Photo via Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Although the federal government says the United States has ample personal protection equipment to fight the coronavirus, nurses and doctors around the country say there’s a PPE gear shortage and they’re running out of supplies. 

On July 8, Vice President Mike Pence did not sound worried about PPE gear shortages, according to the New York Times. “PPE, we hear, remains very strong,” Pence said.

Read Adm. John Polowczyk, who is in charge of COVID-19 supplies for the federal government, echoed that sentiment and said concerns are overblown, according to the Washington Post

“I’m not going to tell you we’re able to meet all demand, but there’s significantly less unfulfilled orders today than in April,” Polowczyk said. “I have not found a hospital system that is in threat of running out. … I don’t have the sense of there being severe shortages.”

But hospital employees disagree. They say they have shortages in respirator masks, isolation gowns, and disposable gloves. For example, the New York Times reports that doctors at Memorial City Medical Center in Houston have to use single-use N95 respirator masks for up to 15 days when treating COVID-19 patients. 

An internal report from FEMA says that hospital workers should expect to re-wear masks for the foreseeable future. It also shows that although there are shortages of medical gowns, there hasn’t been an increase in production. 

New York Magazine attributes the PPE gear shortage to a variety of issues: the massive surge in new daily COVID-19 cases across the country, an increase in demand for PPE from non-frontline workers as the economy reopens, and a lack of action from the White House. 

Meanwhile, prices for N95s have skyrocketed. Some nurses say they’ve seen masks selling on Amazon for $7 per mask. The Times reported that before the pandemic, N95 masks cost less than a dollar. 

Doctors on the COVID-19 frontlines aren’t the only ones who say they have a shortage of PPE. As the economy continues to open up, primary care offices, nursing homes, prisons, and psychiatric and disability facilities are in need, according to the Washington Post.

The American Medical Association told the Federal Emergency Management Agency in a letter that doctor’s offices providing primary care, chemotherapy, and minor surgeries have had a hard time reopening because they don’t have access to PPE. 

“Strains on the supply chain for PPE and disinfectant products continue, and they simply are not readily available from the usual sources our physicians use,” James Madara, the AMA’s CEO, wrote in the letter. “Furthermore, the sources that are available are reportedly fulfilling only very large, institution-sized orders. We are hearing significant and growing concern from our member physicians that they cannot secure needed supplies to safely reopen and that they are unsure where to turn for further guidance and assistance.” 

Kay Kennel, the chief officer of Lubbock Kids Dental in Texas, told the New York Times that her dental office did not receive enough PPE, so it has remained closed even as the state’s economy reopened. She said her patients are suffering from severe pain. 

“We’re not talking about silver crowns, teeth cleaning, or veneers,” Kennel said. “These are children with severe infections, and there is nothing we can do for them.”

Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, New York Mag, AMA

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