29 Jun ‘The new gold’: demand for PPE soars again amid shortage as US cases rise
Fragile supply chains and wary hospitals continue to push some workers to wear N95 masks and and gowns for up to a week
Demand and prices for personal protective equipment is soaring again across the US as coronavirus cases continue to rise in more than half of states.
One of the nation’s largest organizations donating personal protective equipment (PPE) said they have received a surge in requests from Covid-19 hotspots, especially in Texas, which has paused it’s reopening plan following record increases in cases and hospitalizations.
Dr Megan Ranney, an emergency room doctor and researcher at Brown University in Rhode Island who co-founded the volunteer-run organization #GetUsPPE said as cases in Texas surged, requests for PPE from health facilities in the stateshot up last week from less than 2,000 pieces of equipment requested to more than 220,000, though she says that may be partly due to increased awareness of the organization.
“Overall the need for N95 masks, and to a lesser degree surgical masks, are still the top requests and they consistently have been,” Ranney said.
Cases have also been surging in Florida, where Dequasia Canales, a vice president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Miami-Dade county has been delivering caravans of PPE to nursing homes.
“There is a general and persistent shortage of PPE across the state of Florida,” said Canales. She said for-profit hospitals in particular, “have some supplies, but they are being too conservative and crass with the way they are distributing and using their PPE”.
As the urgency of high-profile Covid-19 outbreaks in the north-east of the country and cities such as New York faded in late spring, so did attention to the acute PPE shortage for frontline health workers. But fragile supply chains and wary hospital administrators continue to push some workers to wear N95 masks and and gowns for up to a week, even though they are designed to be changed between patients.
Frontline health workers have long warned that re-using such equipment leaves them at higher risk of becoming infected.
“There is no question – there is PPE entering in the country or being manufactured at this point – but who it’s allocated to and how it’s allocated equitably is still an open question,” said said Andrew Stroup, co-founder of Project N95, which collects small orders for PPE and brings them together into bulk orders manufacturers will accept.
All this happens as Covid-19 cases climb in June to record levels, with some estimates putting the single-highest ever caseload this month.Advertisement
Cases are particularly surging in Texas, Florida and Arizona, which pushed to reopen their economies early and had looser restrictions during the Memorial Day holiday weekend in late May, which many Americans consider the unofficial start of summer.
Jude Derisme, another SEIU vice president, in Palm Beach county, said some hospitals stopped forcing workers to wear N95 masks for days at a time when, “when the Covid numbers went down”. But with cases rising, “The majority of the hospitals I see here in Palm Beach county are reverting back to that practice because of the surge of Covid-19 cases,” either because they lack supplies or worry supply chains will again break down.
In Texas, Lubbock Kids Dental CEO Kay Kennel said: “I haven’t been able to buy any [PPE] in nine weeks.” Texas, like most other states, created a supply chain task force to deal with PPE shortages. But Kennel said she watches daily in disbelief as the governor updates the state on new PPE shipments, and yet she cannot obtain the supplies she needs. As of Thursday, she had nine days worth of PPE left for her staff.
“There’s no excuse for this – none, none,” she said.
Kennel said a trailer she had obtained to store bulk orders of PPE was broken into and equipment stolen. She called masks “the new gold”. Other healthcare providers have reported receiving delivery of fake PPE and having their orders go unfulfilled.
Experts described supply chain “mismatch,” where small hospitals and healthcare providers could not access PPE, because suppliers demand minimum orders for tens of millions of masks, and normal distributors have no supply.
“It’s a very, very, very challenging market, and you have to be very careful,” said Brent Skoda, whose company Urgent Response Network has handled massive purchasing orders for states. “You have to deal with vetted, legitimate US companies that have insurance.”
State officials have said supply chains in some early hotspots, such as Connecticut, are normalizing. But other states are still begging for federal assistance. In Washington, Governor Jay Inslee said his state tried to buy $400m worth of PPE “domestically and internationally” but less than 10% of orders have been filled. In a letter to President Trump, Inslee said “PPE shortages are widespread”, in his state.
“The pandemic [is] a representation of how the normal operating model became broken,” said Stroup.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), which is in charge of distributing medical supplies such as masks, appeared to struggle to distribute supplies in the spring. In June, the agency said it distributed millions of surgical masks, gloves and gowns nationally, but some nursing homes which received them said the products were defective and unusable. As of June, one in five nursing homes in Florida told the federal government they still have almost no masks or gowns, according to the Miami Herald.
“It’s completely unacceptable that nearly four months into this pandemic, healthcare workers in hospitals, nursing homes and in the home care profession are still being put at risk due to a lack of personal protective equipment,” said President of SEIU International, Mary Kay Henry.
Further, as more health facilities try to reopen under the relaxation of stay-at-home orders, demand rises.
“Demand outweighs supply by very significant factors,” said Skoda. “You’ve got China that has the world’s largest manufacturing base, they have the machines and everything else. They are not able to generate enough PPE for China, so they are definitely not capable of servicing the rest of the world.”
Source – Here