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Quad-City health care workers: We don't have enough equipment to fight coronavirus
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Quad-City health care workers: We don't have enough equipment to fight coronavirus

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Iowa has rebuilt its stockpile of personal protective equipment after a dire shortage that prompted the state to buy through unusual sources, including $7 million in contracts for gowns and goggles with a business known for making Republican campaign signs.

A dwindling supply of personal protection equipment, or PPE, has Quad-City area health care workers worried — even scared — as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads and intensifies across the country.

An article in Wednesday's Quad-City Times reporting that area hospitals, nursing homes and emergency first-responders have enough PPE for now — but are continuing to place orders, be conservative in use and asking for donations — ignited a firestorm of response on Facebook.

"This is flat out lying," one commentator wrote.

A major concern of everyone — health care workers, the organizations they work for and emergency planners — is how long the pandemic will last and how bad it will get here. And no one knows.

Dave Donovan, director of the Scott County Emergency Management Agency, said Thursday his team is spending most of its time trying to secure more PPE, such as isolation gowns, surgical and N95 masks and face shields.

"We feel cautiously optimistic currently but are concerned about the duration of the event," he said.

In an effort to stretch supplies, health care workers are being asked to reuse their face masks by folding them in half with the outer surface inward and placing it in a sealed paper bag for their next shift, according to multiple sources.

This practice is a guideline from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, for crisis situations.

Genesis confirmed it is re-using PPE under CDC guidelines through sterilization. It also will use reusable cloth gowns. And Craig Cooper, senior communications specialist, said home-sewn masks can be used as covers for N95 masks, "which makes the N95 masks usable for longer periods."

On Wednesday, President Trump  acknowledged that the federal stockpile of PPE is nearly depleted.

Donovan, of the emergency agency, said he is "in almost continuous contact with (Quad-City) health care organizations."

"We continue to work on procurement, requests to the state, donations and reusable masks and gowns," he said. "We have requests from several long-term care facilities and expect to fill those yet this week.

"Today (Thursday) or tomorrow (Friday) we will get our second shipment from the state of Iowa. Not everything we asked for, but better than our first shipment."

Genesis' Cooper acknowledged that this is a very emotional time for employees and that the supply situation is fluid.

"Genesis continues to turn every stone to find sources of PPE supplies," he said in a statement.

A person identifying him or herself as a worker at Trinity emailed to say, "I am currently reusing my N95 mask for every possible positive and positive COVID-19 case.

"I was told we will be running out of gowns on Friday. .. Most of us are scared to be coming in every day."

The CDC also has guidelines for using cloth gowns in crisis situations.

None of the commenters the Times messaged through Facebook or email wanted to be identified by name or even job title for fear of reprisal.

Cooper at Genesis said the hospital has developed surge-planning models.

"We are planning for PPE, ventilator and other equipment needs based on various scenarios of anticipated surge of COVID-19 patients," he said in a statement.

Four variables change the supply daily: how much is used (burn rate), what the hospital is able to purchase ("we are being very aggressive in seeking traditional and non-traditional sources"), reuse of PPE using CDC guidelines and donations from the community.

"We are enlisting community support and the help of sewing volunteers and companies," Cooper said. "We will not turn away and have never turned away donations to Genesis either directly or through the Quad Cities COVID-19 Coalition.

"We are making great progress in the delivery of hand-sewn cloth masks and finding local companies to sew masks and isolation gowns."

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