PORTLAND, Ore. — Officials in Oregon and Washington are pulling back the curtain to show just how dire the situation is tied to a shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE, for nurses and doctors.
At a news conference Thursday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said he’s calling his own contacts in China to try and help his state purchase more.
“Today we are in a mad scramble frankly with fifty states competing against one another for crucial supplies,” he said “We already cannot meet the demands coming in from around the state.”
On her daily conference call with reporters Wednesday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said, amid this national shortage, her state is in the same position.
She said she called the White House to urge President Trump to invoke the Federal Defense Production Act, which would order American companies to accept federal contracts to produce more PPE and other supplies needed to fight the virus.
Hours later, heads at the Oregon Health Authority released a new report detailing just how much the state needs.
Oregon’s emergency stockpile of personal protective equipment, which state officials had hoped would give them some breathing room while they worked to buy and collect more, is nearly out.
Hospitals have already used 100% of both gowns and splash shields, 95% of face shields and 80% of N95 respirator masks.
Spokesperson Lauren Wirtis added via email “I will note that the data is not reflective of the total PPE in the state. The operation to gather those materials is currently underway and being facilitated by the Emergency Coordination Center in Salem. As this collection process occurs, we will have more finalized numbers. The ECC is also in the process of identifying all sources of PPE, including potential manufacturers.”
To put it in perspective, the state had more than half a million of those N95 masks before all this. It’s enough to make everyday observers to this pandemic decide to step in.
“People on the group are seamstresses, nurses, doctors, couriers, drivers,” said Maria Michalczyk of Tigard.
Michalczyk is one of a few recruiting hundreds to sew face masks for nurses and doctors, via the Facebook group Pandemic Volunteer Mask Makers of Oregon.
She says healthcare workers, largely in Salem and Bend, have been welcoming the masks with open arms, especially after the CDC issued guidelines recommending any health care worker who runs out of PPE wrap a bandanna around their face.
Michalczyk, a retired nurse, called the shortage “surreal”.
“I grew up in a time where the American health care system was the best in the world” she said. “We were the best trained. We were the best resourced. We had the best research. That never ever crossed my mind that we weren't, but seeing what's happening now, it's heartbreaking to me.”