In New York, frontline medical providers are placing breathing tubes in people who are COVID-19 positive without wearing the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to prevent transmission of the highly contagious coronavirus.
In Louisiana, supplies of PPE – like facemasks, gloves, and gowns — are running out, and medical providers are resorting to standing in doorways to examine patients at a distance. Frontline medical providers in California report the same problem: they do not have adequate PPE for themselves, or other staff, like janitors. Frontline providers in Connecticut have been asked to use a single N95 respirator mask per day and to store their mask in a brown paper bag for re-use.
From coast to coast, this crisis is growing.
I work as a primary care physician on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. These stories speak to the shared experiences of my colleagues around the nation. Fear underlies our collective experience: we worry that our lack of adequate PPE may spread coronavirus to our colleagues, patients, families and communities, and may also increase our own chances of becoming sick. Each time a healthcare worker gets ill means there is one less person to care for patients.
PPE is essential to protecting frontline workers during this pandemic. However, as the number of COVID-19 cases rises exponentially, our supply of PPE continues to quickly diminish.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended a series of crisis strategies to prolong current PPE supplies. These strategies include using facemasks beyond manufacturer-designated shelf-life, re-using facemasks across patients, and prioritizing facemasks for only certain activities, such as placing breathing tubes.
Additionally, the CDC has laid out non-standard options when facemasks are not available , including using face shields with homemade masks, although the CDC makes clear that these options may not ensure adequate protection. Despite the inspiring community volunteer efforts to make and donate PPE, together with the valiant work of healthcare systems to procure and fairly ration PPE, frontline medical providers need vastly more quantities of PPE than these efforts can provide.
On March 27, President Trump enacted the Defense Production Act (DPA) to compel certain manufacturers to produce ventilators. Today, we need President Trump to enact the DPA to require U.S. industry to manufacture CDC-compliant PPE and to coordinate fair distribution, with high-need areas given priority status. Invoking the DPA would ramp up PPE production to help meet the ever-increasing demand, alleviate unfair distribution, and reduce sky-rocketing costs caused by competition between states and hospital systems scrambling to buy the limited PPE available now.
We all carry a responsibility to help protect our community from the increasing death toll that this pandemic may inflict. So, what can we do?
- Visit the website www.needmasks.today to learn more about the experiences of frontline workers and ways you can push President Trump to enact the DPA to create a coordinated national response for the manufacture and distribution of PPE.
- Call, email or tweet your governor. Ask your governor to call on President Trump to enact the DPA to require manufacturers to produce PPE.
- Visit the website www.GetUsPPE.org to learn more about the PPE shortage and about ways for healthcare providers and potential donors to connect.
- Sign the petition asking President Trump to enact the DPA to require manufacturers to produce PPE.
- Spread the word about this issue and these solutions, via email and social media (tag #needmaskstoday, #getusppe, #getmeppe), to your family and friends.
The PPE shortage will result in more widespread coronavirus infection among frontline medical providers and the patients for whom they care. When frontline medical providers are sidelined by sickness, or worse, die, who will be left to care for patients and families? Who will be left to care for you and me?
We need PPE today. Please help protect our frontline healthcare workers. Urge President Trump to enact the DPA for PPE now.
Janani Raveendran MD is internal medicine/primary care resident physician working in Connecticut.