PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — With a limited amount of protective equipment, how do hospitals keep everyone safe and healthy?

“There’s a great … anxiety in managing this. It’s new for people,” Dr. John Sullivan, chief medical officer at St. Clair Hospital, said.

In particular, N95 masks, which filter 95% of 0.3 micron test particles, are in short supply.

“Why are the N95 masks so short?” Dr. Sullivan said, “90% of them are made in China.”

Hospitals first conserve what they have:

  • By keeping the care team for COVID-19 patients to one doctor and one nurse for the day to minimize the consumption of masks and gowns.
  • By postponing non-urgent surgeries and procedures.
  • By using masks to the absolute limit.

“Historically, we were told about discarding them after a single use. We’ve watched that quickly change from one use, to five uses, to use it for your shift, and in many other institutions, use it until it becomes soiled or it doesn’t seal adequately,” Dr. Sullivan says.

Also, hospitals reuse what they can; face shields, for instance, after they’ve been cleaned.

And they get creative about gear intended for other uses.

In some parts of the country, healthcare workers are being asked to re-purpose resources from home, like bandannas for masks, and for eye protection, scuba gear and safety goggles, which can be wiped off and reused.

Dr. Maria Simbra