As coronavirus cases mount in Illinois, healthcare providers face a shortage of personal protective equipment. To keep workers healthy—and on the job—the hospital industry is asking dentists, veterinarians and others to donate their face masks and respirators.
Healthcare providers that get exposed to COVID-19 are required to self-quarantine for 14 days to prevent further spreading the virus, even if they're not showing symptoms. Rush Oak Park Hospital said today that two emergency room doctors have tested positive for coronavirus, the Sun-Times reports.
Without medical supplies that protect clinicians and support staff, sources say a worker shortage is imminent.
"We anticipate that the number of cases will increase dramatically in the coming days and weeks, exhausting all the (personal protective equipment) at hospitals," Illinois Health and Hospital Association CEO A.J. Wilhelmi said today in a letter to leaders of associations for the construction industry, dentists and veterinarians, among other groups.
Wilhelmi urged the groups to consider donating their inventory of N95 respirators, including those that may be expired, as well as forgoing additional orders at this time. Other supplies needed by the state's more than 200 hospitals include surgical masks, gowns, gloves and eye shields, he added.
During a conference call with Chicago labor leaders today, Marti Smith, a registered nurse and Midwest director of National Nurses United, said she's concerned about a shortage of personal protective equipment.
While some hospitals have N95 respirators, others have very few, Smith said, noting that all the facilities "are experiencing a very, very limited supply chain—they have a week, maybe two weeks, of supply."
Smith added that rationing such equipment might be putting nurses at risk.
"If our nurses get sick, it won't matter how many hospital beds we have in this city—there won't be anyone to take care of them."
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention's new guidelines for optimizing a limited supply of face masks have been criticized by some healthcare providers.
In addition to suggesting that workers use expired face masks or wear the same mask to treat multiple patients, the CDC recommends using a bandana or scarf "as a last resort" in settings where supplies are not available. The guidelines note that "caution should be exercised when considering this option."