As physicians, nurses and the medical community respond heroically to the intensifying COVID-19 outbreak across the U.S., their ability to care for patients in desperate need is being hampered by woefully inadequate supplies of even the most basic equipment and protective gear.
Physicians on the front lines are pleading for more masks, gowns and gloves to help protective themselves and their families in the face of this growing health emergency. Some facilities, such as nursing homes at the epicenter of danger, no longer have protective masks for their nursing staff to treat this incredibly vulnerable population.
We're hearing from physicians that the existing supplies are so depleted that they may only last a matter of days or weeks in many care facilities. Physicians are reusing masks, sewing masks at home, and being told to use bandanas. With the health and safety of physicians and patients on the line, an inadequate supply of protective equipment is unacceptable.
Shortages of this critical equipment pose a significant risk for our ability to treat COVID-19 patients and contain the spread of this pandemic. And they pose serious risks to the health and safety of our health care workforce.
Put bluntly: If we lose our physicians and nurses to illness, we will have no line of defense to fight this disease as access to healthcare services will diminish rapidly.
We must act immediately.
We're told factories overseas are being recertified to again manufacture these products and are beginning shipment. However, we're also hearing reports of products being embargoed in other overseas manufacturing facilities.
Our domestic production is limited but is ramping up to maximum capacity, including production of the industrial N95 masks that are preferred in a pandemic response because they provide more protection for the wearer. As of now, these are in incredibly short supply.
Healthcare facilities are so desperate, we have even heard of such actions as calls to utilize 3D printers to create masks and facial shields.
We do not have time to waste. We need to mobilize as quickly as possible to address these shortages.
The American Medical Association continues to press the Trump administration to leverage every tool at its disposal, including fully employing production and distribution mechanisms of the Defense Production Act. While the resident signed an executive order in the past week that would allow him to exercise this authority, he now must provide clarity about how that authority is being utilized.
While state and local governments will continue to play significant roles in determining priorities for how protective equipment will be used, strong federal leadership is critical to overcome these supply shortages and to provide clarity to physicians and other health care providers about use of the rapidly dwindling supplies.
We urge physicians to closely monitor updates from state and local governments and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about supplies on hand. The World Health Organization also has provided recommendations to healthcare workers on the best use for these limited supplies.
Now, more than ever, we must work collectively to ensure healthcare providers have all they need to turn the tide in this epidemic. We urge the general public to stop purchasing protective masks and other medical supplies. They won't provide significant protection from the virus to the general public but are absolutely critical for healthcare workers treating these patients.
The supply shortages underscore the critical need for adherence to guidance that the public stay home and observe social distancing to protect our healthcare workers and to protect the vulnerable among us.
Confronting COVID-19 requires an all-hands-on-deck approach from federal, state and local governments, and we urge our leaders to pull every lever at their disposal to equip physicians and the healthcare workforce to fight the virus. Falling short of that immediate goal is unacceptable and dangerous.