The COVID-19 pandemic is presenting a crisis to hospitals and clinics most living generations haven’t seen before. Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals currently operate in a wartime mentality—but this time, the front lines are in hospitals and homes instead of trenches in battlegrounds.
The coronavirus has overwhelmed the institutional medical system. Emergency rooms are overcrowded with new cases. Space in hospital rooms is no longer merely at a premium; in many urban areas where COVID-19 has had its worst impact, it’s nearly impossible to get. Reports from professionals in city hospitals report having to treat patients in hospital hallways and corridors, hampering their access to most immediately needed diagnostic and treatment tools.
There is no social distancing for medical professionals working in these situations: They are constantly being exposed to the virus. Many have already contracted the disease. Those who haven’t—or at least, haven’t yet developed symptoms—nonetheless place both their patients and them at risk with the constant exposure.
Missing Levels of Protection
For medical workers in the crossfire of COVID-19, personal protective equipment (PPE) is a must. Although the coronavirus is known for its advanced, prolific transmissibility, masks, gloves, and coats rank nearly as highly as personal hygiene as the most necessary defenses against exposure and infection. But maddeningly, doctors and nurses are encountering a PPE shortage leaving them scrambling for coverage for themselves and their patients.
The lapse in PPE provisions leaves medical professionals at a loss for equipment that would be mandatory wear in everyday hospital operations but is more crucial in this pandemic. Doctors and nurses are forced to reuse PPEs that were designed for single use only—a New York ER physician told Wired she and other staffers were storing N95 masks “in paper bags so we can use them the next day… we need to ration our PPE in ways that are potentially quite unsafe.”
Hospitals Forced to Find Workarounds
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is advising hospitals to operate under a series of “contingency strategies” accounting for the PPE shortage. Recommended strategies include using facemasks and eye protection “beyond single patient contact,” and electing to “replace PPE normally used for source control with other barrier precautions such as tissues.”
Unfortunately, such last-resort precautions are now, for at least a while, the norm. The repeated exposure of pathogens to patients is already precarious enough—but losing doctors and nurses to extended illnesses or death would create a potentially disastrous situation in which a proper defense against COVID-19 would be impossible to mount.
Ramp Up Manufacturing
For doctors and nurses fighting COVID-19 directly in the combat zone, safe and plentiful PPE is a fundamental requirement. Increasing the manufacture and speeding the distribution of masks, gloves, lab coats and other protective medical equipment need to be considered utmost priorities at present.
The medical community still faces a lot of mysteries about how COVID-19 spreads. Its unpredictability has been its most dangerous, fear-inducing factor. The need for personal protective equipment is one element we do understand and rely upon. So are our doctors and nurses, and while they’re fighting together in the war zone, they need as much protection as they can get.