Dangerous Shortages of Equipment: A Nurse’s View from the Front Lines of Pandemic

[Editor’s Note: this is a statement from a nurse in New York City who I spoke with earlier today. Her concerns about dangerous shortages of Personal Protective Equipment for healthcare workers were echoed in an article today by Seattle physicians in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. The nurse wishes to remain anonymous.]

I am a registered nurse in an emergency department in New York City. 

As many of you may be starting to hear, there is already a catastrophic shortage of personal protective equipment available to first responders. We, the first responders, are needing the media to do anything they can to amplify and track this story as a vital service to your first responders and your community at large. 

Steps need to be taken immediately to massively ramp up the production of masks, gowns, suits, and eye covers. 

As this tsunami of COVID-19 patients begins to hit the hospitals, we are already having to re-use masks and gowns in ways that are probably unsafe. We do it knowing that it may be exacerbating the spread of the virus but also knowing that supplies of our Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are dwindling. This situation has only just begun. A re-used mask feels less frightening than the prospect of no mask at all. It is impossible to fathom what is right in this situation. We are acutely aware that as we ourselves begin to fall ill, every healthcare provider who gets sick is one less team-member and possibly one less available bed. 

As we have learned with the COVID-19 testing debacle, the federal government appears to respond only to broad pressure from the media and the public. 

I would ask any media outlet to assign someone to track this particular story, because it’s going to be a big story, and we would rather it be told now than later. 

To the community: We have your backs, please have ours. Your social distancing will save our lives. We thank you for it. 

After a version of this warning about PPE shortages was made on The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC radio, the live call-in guest, Dr. Irwin Redlener, a professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center and President Emeritus and co-founder of the Children’s Health Fund, said:

“To say I couldn’t agree with you more is putting it mildly. This is the big story right this second. The testing, fine, that was a complete incompetent disaster on the part of the federal government. And it’s still not fixed, by the way. But it will get fixed, I guess.

At some point, it’s kind of irrelevant. As we start getting tremendous increases in patients – we enter a whole other zone where we’re now worried about saving lives. I am deeply concerned about the health and safety of the people working in our hospitals.”

Listen here to The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC.

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