By J1 Reporter Olivia Turkel
With the recent outbreak of COVID-19, news stations have been pushing out new information as quickly as possible. New information regarding precautionary steps, CDC guidelines and many other resources are constantly released. Of that new information, one topic is particularly scary: hospital supply shortage, which includes the term “flatten the curve.” What is the supply shortage and why does everyone need to practice social distancing?
The biggest supply shortage comes in the form of PPE, which stands for personal protective equipment. Hospital employees wear PPE to protect themselves from contagious diseases and harmful bacteria. Full PPE includes a gown, gloves, face shield/hood or eye protection and masks.
Katie Jakub, who is a registered respiratory therapist (RRT) in the emergency room at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC), describes the challenges she is facing with the ongoing supply shortage. She said, “We’ve been aware that we are running short on masks and those are getting locked away and more heavily regulated.” She described that with this notion of supplies running low, people have to start reusing and cleaning their masks.
Michelle Schlote, who is also a RRT at UNMC but works in the operating room, said, “With the shortages, I get one surgical mask a day to wear around the floor and in the OR [operating room]. Old procedure used to be I got a new, clean mask whenever I entered the OR.”
The biggest concern comes in the form of the N-95 masks, which are specially designed to filter out airborne pathogens. Both RRTs noted that instead of getting a new one for every patient, one is given to you at the beginning of your shift and then you keep it all day. Hospitals nationwide have also started to clean these by using a special procedure put out by the CDC. Schlote said, “It [the N-95 mask] gets put into a brown paper bag and sent to a place where they will reproccess by using UVB light and once that process is done, it gets sent back to you to use again.” The CDC has put out new guidelines saying that all of these procedures are safe and necessary to try and manage the shortage.
Along with PPE and N-95 masks, there are other shortages in the hospital. In the ER they have had to be more cautious about who they give inhalers to. Jakub noted, “Medications are running low. The albuterol inhalers are in a national shortage, so we need to prove patients actually are in distress and need one. I think we used to just give them to anyone who was short of breath, but now we have to take a detailed respiratory history before even ordering one.”
New steps are being taken by hospitals like UNMC to make sure that the supplies they have lasts as long as they can. Masks, gloves, face hoods, gowns, sanitizers, wipes and basically any other cleaning supplies are now locked up and heavily guarded by security. All of this is to ensure that people don’t come into the hospital to try and steal supplies.
With all of this supply in shortage, both RRTs at UNMC, stressed that it is extremely important to social distance to flatten the curve. “In essence it would mean that we could accommodate the people that are ill now, rather than if we the curve doesn’t flatten we will eventually have more people than what we have room for. It would use up more PPE than we even have available,” Schlote said.
On behalf of all frontline workers, the CDC and the community around us, please continue to social distance, wash your hands and stay informed of the recent guidelines of how to leave your house safely. For more information check out the CDC’s website https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.