COVID-19

Will hospitals run out of protective gear again as cases rise?

Marielle Segarra Jun 29, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Medical personnel administer a COVID-19 test in West Palm Beach, Florida. As cases begin to rise again, the United States might have an easier time securing personal protective equipment. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Will hospitals run out of protective gear again as cases rise?

Marielle Segarra Jun 29, 2020
Medical personnel administer a COVID-19 test in West Palm Beach, Florida. As cases begin to rise again, the United States might have an easier time securing personal protective equipment. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images
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As virus cases surge in Arizona, Florida, Texas and California, hospitals are beginning to be overwhelmed with patients. Other parts of the country have been there — and we all saw what happened.

Health care workers did not have enough protective equipment. They had to reuse masks for days, carrying them home in brown paper bags labeled with their names. Some ended up wearing trash bags in place of surgical gowns.

Cindy Zolnierek, CEO of the Texas Nurses Association, said health care workers in Texas saw the dire shortages of protective equipment in other places. Now, Zolnierek said, they’re wondering, “will we be faced with what New York saw, what Michigan saw, what we saw occur in Europe?”

Three months after hospitals faced the most severe shortages, things have started to get better.

For instance, 3M, which makes N95 masks, has doubled its production to make more than a billion of them a year. But it said the demand for masks still exceeds supply.

“The spike in demand is really, really massive,” said Dan Hearsch, a managing director at AlixPartners.

His wife is a nurse in Detroit, one of the cities that was hit hardest in the spring.

“In the heat of COVID, at least here in Detroit, it was 15, 20 times a day that nurses would have to put on a new mask, a new gown,” Hearsch said.

It’s especially hard to meet the need for N95 masks; they’re made with a special kind of fabric.

“In terms of the really good-quality N95 masks, there’s a bottleneck because you can’t just set up a new company and start selling those things. It’s months of regulation,” said Lloyd Armbrust, who started a manufacturing company in Texas that makes surgical masks and can make N95s, but hasn’t received approval yet.

But some people are optimistic that health care workers will have enough protective equipment this time.

Steven A. Melnyk, who teaches supply chain management at Michigan State University, said that’s partly because other countries have flattened the curve.

“If you take a look at the [European Union], if you take a look at Canada, if you take a look at other countries, Australia, for example, you’ll see that they’re on the downside significantly,” Melnyk said.

That means less competition for protective gear.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

New COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. are on the rise. How are Americans reacting?

Johns Hopkins University reports the seven-day average of new cases hit 68,767 on Sunday  — a record — eclipsing the previous record hit in late July during the second, summer wave of infection. A funny thing is happening with consumers though: Even as COVID-19 cases rise, Americans don’t appear to be shying away from stepping indoors to shop or eat or exercise. Morning Consult asked consumers how comfortable they feel going out to eat, to the shopping mall or on a vacation. And their willingness has been rising. Surveys find consumers’ attitudes vary by age and income, and by political affiliation, said Chris Jackson, who heads up polling at Ipsos.

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

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