RENTON, Washington (Reuters) – Seattle doctors have shrunk to making their masks out of plastic sheets, after a global shortage of medical protective equipment hit Washington state, an epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States .
PHOTO PHOTO: Protective masks at the Microbiology Research Center, where researchers are starting an experiment to see if hydroxychloroquine treatment with malaria can prevent or reduce the severity of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA March 19, 2020. REUTERS / Craig Lassig
Prior to an expected shortage of medical supplies, hospital staff gathered in a conference room south of Seattle to make homemade masks for doctors, nurses and other health workers on the front lines in addressing the coronavirus epidemic.
“We are just days away from the exhaustion of the equipment we need,” said Melissa Tizon, Associate Vice President of Providence St. Joseph Health, which manages 51 hospitals in five western states. “We expect more expeditions later, but until then we have to improvise.”
With coronavirus cases increasing over 13,000 in the United States, healthcare professionals are facing not only a shortage of masks but also surgical gowns and eye protection devices.
President Donald Trump, speaking of medical equipment during a White House briefing on Thursday, said “millions of masks” were in production, but did not give details.
“We have helped, and there are millions of masks under construction right now. But this really is for local governments, governors and people within the state, depending on how they divided it. And they will, and they are doing a great job. ”
Asked a reporter during the briefing why the increase in mask production did not reach hospitals, Trump said that the medical system was “obsolete” and that the production system “was not intended for this” emergency.
“Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this magnitude,” said Trump. “Nobody has ever seen anything like this before.”
Vice President Mike Pence said in the same briefing: “We have significantly increased the supply of medical masks and will continue to give priority to making sure we appeal to industry at all levels.”
Meanwhile, many hospitals in other states have issued emergency calls to private companies to donate face masks and other items that can be used as medical protective equipment.
Thursday’s Illinois Health and Hospital Association appealed to help the state’s 200 hospitals, asking for mask donations from construction companies, dentists, veterinarians and any other groups that may have masks, called N95.
“Hospitals across the state are at risk of potentially running out of essential protective medical supplies,” said A.J. Wilhelmi.
Reporting Deborah Bloom in Renton, Washington. Additional reports and writings by Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Bill Tarrant and Raju Gopalakrishnan