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Crisis Over Protective Gear Growing for OR Front-line Workers

Some workers are relying on homemade cloth masks during the coronavirus pandemic. (ravipat/Adobe Stock)
Some workers are relying on homemade cloth masks during the coronavirus pandemic. (ravipat/Adobe Stock)
March 31, 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Oregon workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic are in desperate need of protective gear. Masks and gloves are in short supply or nonexistent in hospitals and grocery stores and for home-care workers across the state.

Head of the Oregon Nurses Association Sara Laslett said emergency-room nurses in Portland are wearing swim goggles because there are no more face shields.

"On the coast, they are storing their dirty masks in paper bags and rubber-made containers to reuse again," Laslett said. "And in central Oregon right now, some of our nurses have been wearing the same N95 mask for three weeks straight."

Alicia Holihan is an emergency department technician in Springfield and SEIU Local 49 member. She said workers are being asked to wear a single surgical mask for 12-hour shifts. And she said hospital workers were approved to wear cloth masks last week.

"That is not acceptable," Holihan said. "As we see, we need this essential equipment to be able to handle the surge and anticipate all the people that are going to be coming in."

Oregon Rep. Suzanne Bonamici said members of Congress are pushing the White House to release more masks for essential workers in Oregon.

"There's no reason why any piece of PPE should be sitting in a closet or a stockpile right now," Bonamici said. "It needs to get on the hands and faces and bodies of people who are saving lives."

For many, the threat from unsafe conditions doesn't stay at work. Irene Hunt is a home-care worker and SEIU Local 503 member. She said she has no PPE available to her, and her daughter has been staying with her 70-year-old mother-in-law since last week.

"I had to drop my daughter off Monday and I have not been able to pick her back up to make sure that they stay safe because I'm afraid," Hunt said.

Gov. Kate Brown is calling on the federal government to release more personal protective equipment from the strategic national stockpile.

Disclosure: SEIU Local 49 contributes to our fund for reporting on Livable Wages/Working Families, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR