New York, 26 March 2020 (tca/dpa/MIA) — Healthcare workers in many countries are being confronted with shortages of protective gear and medical equipment critical in treating a massive influx of COVID-19 patients, as the new coronavirus spreads around the globe.
In the United States, states including New York and Illinois have complained that a lack of coordination from the White House is forcing them into bidding wars over supplies.
They argue this is driving up prices, and areas in desperate need of resources could be squeezed out and patients left to die.
“I can’t find any more equipment, it’s not a question of money,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose state is battling the nation’s worst outbreak with more than 30,800 coronavirus cases. “We need the federal help now.”
Speaking at a Tuesday news conference, he said the state has secured enough protective gear for health workers to last a few weeks but has been unable to buy most of the 30,000 ventilators which will be needed for critically ill patients at the peak of the crisis.
Cuomo blasted the federal government for failing to send anywhere near enough ventilators, saying: “You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die.”
He said he did not “understand the reluctance to use the Defense Production Act,” and joined other state governors and medical organizations in begging President Donald Trump to use the law, which would allow him to order the private sector to produce goods.
Trump has demurred, saying the act was already working as “leverage,” with industry leaders stepping up to help address the shortages.
Carmakers Ford, GM, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are among major US companies that have announced a pivot to making masks and ventilators, with other companies including tech giants Facebook and Apple donating millions of masks.
But Cuomo said while corporate “volunteerism is nice,” it will fall short.
In a bid to make the best of their resources, healthcare workers in New York are experimenting with splitting one ventilator between two patients, according to Cuomo.
Desperate nurses at one Manhattan hospital have resorted to wearing trash bags, according to the New York Post.
In a photo shared on social media, three nurses at Mount Sinai West are stood in a hallway wearing black plastic trash bags instead of gowns.
One of them holds an open box of Hefty “Strong” 33-gallon trash bags they are using as personal protective equipment.
“NO MORE GOWNS IN THE WHOLE HOSPITAL,” the social media caption reads.
“NO MORE MASKS AND REUSING THE DISPOSABLE ONES…NURSES FIGURING IT OUT DURING COVID-19 CRISIS.”
Los Angeles County officials on Wednesday issued guidance for doctors and nurses to reuse face masks and wear gowns and masks that are expired, the LA Times reported.
A hospital chain in Washington state told the Washington Post newspaper it was considering requesting veterinary ventilators used to treat large animals.
Lawmakers have also asked the federal government to impose a temporary ban on exports of testing and diagnostic supplies and personal protective equipment.
Countries in the European Union—which has become the epicenter of the global COVID-19 pandemic—have restricted the export of masks outside the bloc, while the European Commission said it is creating an emergency stockpile of medical equipment and supplies.
China has pledged more than 2 million masks to the EU after Brussels donated 50 tons of equipment to Beijing in January.
In Britain, the National Health Service needs some 30,000 ventilators to cope with the expected rise in severe coronavirus infections in the coming weeks, but it only has about 8,000, according to local media including the BBC.
The service is also woefully short of intensive care beds compared with Germany and even Italy.
Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden have periodically reported delivery shortages of protective masks. Weaknesses with their just-in-time supply model have emerged, for instance when China, a large producer, was shut down.
Border closures in Europe have also delayed deliveries.
In the Philippines, at least five doctors have died from COVID-19, and the medical community has blamed the situation on the shortage of protective equipment.
In Japan, where consumers have been unable to buy face masks for more than a month, people have resorted to DIY solutions, with bloggers and magazines showing how to make them on social media.