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COVID-19: Demands Grow for Health-Care Worker Protections

Construction firms and other industries have been donating key supplies to hospitals in response to the pandemic, but health agencies say the federal government needs to do more to increase access to protective gear. (Adobe Stock)
Construction firms and other industries have been donating key supplies to hospitals in response to the pandemic, but health agencies say the federal government needs to do more to increase access to protective gear. (Adobe Stock)
March 24, 2020

MADISON, Wis. -- Health care workers from Wisconsin and around the country are worried about having to stretch key resources as they help patients infected with the new coronavirus. The supply situation varies from state-to-state and hospital systems within each state.

John Brady is a union official representing nurses in Connecticut. He said instead of discarding N95 masks, which are recommended over other gear such as surgical masks, nurses there are being forced to use them multiple times.

"They are now trying to stretch them," Brady said. "They'll only send one person into the room, if possible, for the entire shift, and that person will have one mask for that room and they will reuse it. They'll leave it in a paper bag at the door."

Wisconsin health officials have suggested supplies in the Badger State are adequate for now, but there's a concern that could change if there's a major surge in cases. Gov. Tony Evers also has asked FEMA to provide protective gear for first responders.

There also have been repeated calls for President Donald Trump to force more manufacturing of supplies under the Defense Production Act. However, so far, the president has said even though it was signed, it should only be used in a "worst-case" scenario.

So far, Wisconsin has been given more than 50,000 N95 face masks from the Strategic National Stockpile. But Brady said states all over the country need more supplies from that stockpile.

"Releasing that to the governors and departments of health, that would take care of the immediate need," he said.

Public health officials said the stockpile has several million N95 masks. In addition to protective gear, nurses in Michigan have raised concerns over a lack of disinfectant wipes at certain hospitals. The Michigan Nurses Association said health care systems need policies that are more clear when it comes to safety protocols.

The state hospital association said it's doing everything it can to protect workers and patients.

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Mike Moen, Public News Service - WI