The world is low on PPE, and the superheroes are doing their best

An+inside+view+of+Regions+Hospital+in+St.+Paul%2C+Minnesota.

Submitted by Sara Erickson

An inside view of Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota.

By Hazel Waltenbaugh, St. Paul Academy and Summit School

There is a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical and healthcare workers around the world, including locally in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, due to the COVID 19 outbreak. The World Health Organization asked for an increase in production of over 40% to provide frontline workers with the protection they deserve, although it has been hard for many places to keep up with the demand.

Pulmonary and Critical Care Physician Sara Erickson who works at Regions Hospital in Saint Paul said that hospitals across the nation have struggled with keeping up with the new demand for PPE because of the new protocols frontline workers have to take. “We are trying to minimize the use of PPE,” Erickson said. “Social distancing is definitely working in Minnesota. We have the second-lowest per capita infection rate, which means people are doing what they’re supposed to.”

The doctors at Regions are updated every day with their PPE supplies including how many masks they have left, and they have been reusing single-use equipment to conserve their supply. “We’ve always had kind of a five to six-day supply left so they’re able to replenish the masks, and the federal government just told us that they would guarantee that we won’t run out, although I don’t know if I believe that or not,” Said Erickson.

Radiation Oncologist Laura Willson who works at Abbott Northwestern Hospital says there are national requirements that say she and her staff are required to wear PPE, however, the hospital could not provide them with any equipment. “There is just a shortage so they really have to ration them and decide where it’s most important,” Willson said. “Minnesota has not hit its peak yet so time will tell. New York is clearly in the thick of it all right now, and I’m sure hoping that the social distancing that we’re doing will help us flatten the curve and make our peak not as high as we once thought it would be.”

PPE is important to maintain the safety of the patients, as well as doctors and their families.“I worry about bringing this home to my family,” said Willson. This is a major concern for many frontline workers. Providing them with the right protective equipment is crucial for everyone’s safety, and will hopefully do its part in slowing the spread so there will still be doctors to treat patients.

Minnesota does not yet have as high of a demand for PPE as places elsewhere in the United States like New York or California does, however, it’s still a major concern. New York, which has a population of 8.39 million, currently has 202,208 confirmed cases, whereas Minnesota with a population of 5.64 million, is currently only at 1,695 confirmed cases. As of Apr. 14, there are 177 people hospitalized, with 909 recovered. Minnesota has done a good job of slowing the spread of the virus which leaves our hospitals less stressed than places elsewhere, like New York.

Healthcare providers are doing as much as they can to minimize their exposure to COVID-19. Erickson highlighted how limiting provider exposure through PPE protection can keep more patients out of the hospitals, and keep doctors healthy to treat the abundance of patients. “We are trying to move all the equipment into the hallways to avoid entry,” Erickson said. “We’ll have IV pumps with really long lengths of tubing running to the patients so that the nurses don’t have to go in and out so frequently.”

“I worry if we are going to be asked to do our job if we run out [of PPE]. That would put us in such a compromised position, to say go into a room without protective equipment and care for someone who is sick. But yet, by the same token, then we would let those patients die,” Erickson said. “I don’t think we’re going to get to that place.”

Hospitals have been taking donations of PPE in case the shortage worsens. Many people have been making homemade masks, which are great for personal use as the CDC recommends that people wear them in public spaces like the grocery store or pharmacy. However, these homemade masks are to prevent transmission of the virus and are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators, as those types of masks should be reserved for medical workers.

Rick Magnuson who teaches at the lower school and Kirsten Hoogenakker who works in the upper school design lab have been doing as much as they can to help out with the PPE shortage. They connected with a teacher from St.Thomas academy to 3D-print frames for the top of face shields as part of a network called The Shield Team.

Hoogenakker was worried that her approach to helping the situation wouldn’t be beneficial to the PPE shortage. “One of my biggest concerns was putting a bunch of work and supplies into a product that wasn’t needed or desired, ultimately ending up in a trash can,” Said Hoogenakker. “This team has requests for thousands and thousands of face shields, so every part counts and they have provided models that hospitals are accepting as approved PPE”.

The best way to help with the PPE shortage is to stay home and follow the social distancing guidelines. However, there are also smaller ways to help while you’re at home like sewing your own face masks, donating unused certified PPE, or coming up with your own creative ways like Hoogenakker.

This story was originally published on The Rubicon on April 15, 2020.