WASHINGTON (FOX 5 DC) - While millions of Americans are being asked to stay at home amid the coronavirus outbreak, doctors, nurses, respiratory technicians and other healthcare staff across the DMV are going into work every day, and many hospitals are dealing with a shortage of protective gear.
Hospitals are in need of supplies such as N-95 masks, gowns, ventilators, and beds.
Healthcare professionals are essentially soldiers in the war against COVID-19, and one local ER doctor says, “It’s like sending a soldier into war without proper uniform or equipment.”
Based on CDC guidelines, healthcare workers across the country are being advised to reuse the same N95 mask, unless it’s spoiled or wet, for multiple patients a day, instead of changing the mask per patient which has been the long-standing protocol. They are also being told to be very careful when removing the mask to prevent self-contamination. The CDC even suggested at one point to use a bandana or scarf, if needed.
N95 respirators and surgical masks are in short supply in most states, and there’s no clear indication when hospitals will get their supplies, promised by the federal government.
FILE - Protective N-95 face masks lie on a table at an office in Washington, DC. (Photo by EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images)
While the D.C. region is nowhere near where New York is in terms of the number of COVID-19 patients, hospitals are preparing and concerned about getting overwhelmed.
“If we're going to experience a great increase with patients with COVID, were gonna run out. So we’re beginning to put measures in place. Minimize our usage of PPE, not knowing how long this will last or when supplies will come,” said Dr. Robert Shesser, GW Department of Emergency Medicine Chair.
There have been a number of protocol changes at hospitals in the region. ER doctors tell FOX 5 it’s a scary time. Not only are they concerned for their own health and safety, but they’re concerned about the health of their families.
The spouses and children who live with healthcare professionals on the front lines are at a higher risk of contracting the virus.
Noreen Khan is a Northern Virginia opthalmologist and a new mom. She’s also the wife of a local ICU doctor. She says they’ve had to take extreme measures to stay protected.
“One of the hardest things is that my husband is going out there, into the war zone, seeing patients, and I’m not sure how much exposure he’s gonna have,” said Khan. “We’ve gone through extreme measures. He takes his scrubs off completely in the garage.... there’s a special box for his scrubs, shoes, his phone, his keys before he enters our home,” said Khan.
Dr. Khan says her husband also showers immediately and is sleeping in the guest room for the time being.
They're hoping private companies and big corporations step up to help health care professionals with their supply shortage at this time of crisis.