(CBS News)–With the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States growing exponentially, health care workers are sounding an alarm about shortages of personal protective equipment —known as PPE —like N95 face masks, surgical gowns, medical face shields and nitrile exam gloves. Over the past several weeks, as anxieties over the coronavirus spread, panicky members of the public bought up huge supplies of masks and other items, contrary to the advice of public health experts.
Now, desperate doctors and nurses around the country, who need this gear to stay safe on the job, are taking to social media with the hashtag #GetMePPE to plead with the public to donate those much-needed supplies back to the people on the front lines.
“I’m lucky,” tweeted Dr. Chris Bennett, an emergency medicine resident at Harvard. “I got the last pair of googles in the ER for today. It’s 9AM.”
“This is me in the 1 (one) N95 mask I have to see patients in our suburban LA pediatric office,” wrote Dr. Rebecca Mandel, a pediatrician in Los Angeles. “Sprayed it with Lysol tonight and hung it to dry to reuse in the morning.”
Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency room doctor at Brown/Rhode Island Hospital, tweeted: “This is what hospitals are currently doing to try to keep staff healthy: Stapling elastic bands on expired procedural masks. Horrified? Yep, so am I.”
This is what hospitals are currently doing to try to keep staff healthy:— Megan Ranney MD MPH (@meganranney) March 20, 2020
Stapling elastic bands on expired procedural masks.
Horrified? Yep, so am I. https://t.co/ToxS0iHEmD #GetMePPE pic.twitter.com/x5sJhaeRtx
“We are running out of N95s so have to re use them, and for now covering them with surgical masks. but we will soon run out of them too,” wrote Dr. Kristen Collier at the University of Michigan.
“PPE under lock and key. This is all our nurses get to protect themselves,” added a nurse named Amy Ruth Silverman. “These are single use surgical masks. We’re wearing them for days or weeks. We can’t save your life if we can’t protect our own.”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen an N95 with someone’s name on it, but here we are. pic.twitter.com/lOxrt7J0yU— Screaming Pectoriloquy (@Caulimovirus) March 20, 2020
The hashtag #GetMePPE was started on March 17 by Dr. Esther Choo, an emergency physician and associate professor at the Oregon Health & Science University. She urged health care workers to tweet photos of themselves with the protective equipment they need to fight COVID-19 — and to tag Vice President Mike Pence, the head of the White House coronavirus task force, and members of Congress to encourage national action on the crisis.
The World Health Organization recommends doctors and nurses should wear a “medical mask” when entering a room where patients are confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19. They should wear an N95 respirator mask “when performing aerosol generating procedures such as tracheal intubation, noninvasive ventilation, tracheotomy, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, manual ventilation before intubation, and bronchoscopy.”
However, with supplies of both N95s and ordinary surgical masks now running painfully low, health care systems and medical professionals are begging the public to help.
This is what it looks like in the ICU. Rows of brown bags each labeled with the name of a nurse or doctor . We are told to keep and reuse these masks , which under normal conditions would be thrown out each time we leave the isolation room. #GetMePPE pic.twitter.com/8blP8LzAGv— Victoria Williams (@V_Q_W) March 19, 2020
On Thursday, St. Charles Health System, the largest provider of medical care in Central Oregon, with four hospitals and more than 220 medical providers, put out a press release asking for members of the public to donate everything from N95 masks and gowns to rubbing alcohol and aloe vera gel.
“Our supplies are running critically low and there doesn’t appear to be much relief in sight. Our vendors are unable to deliver on our orders and the state’s stockpile is depleted,” Iman Simmons, St. Charles’ chief operating officer, said. “We are taking advantage of every opportunity we have to safely conserve PPE. But there’s simply no getting around the fact that we need more supplies — and we need them soon.”
The statement said that while full boxes of supplies were obviously preferable, they would accept partial boxes as well, as long as the supplies were clean. Sites of the local schools’ free meals program would now double as medical supply drop-off locations.
While car manufacturers and alcohol distilleries scramble to repurpose their production lines to meet the need for these sorts of supplies, there is also some evidence that members of the public are heeding the call as well.