Not only are American healthcare facilities struggling to keep up with testing demands in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but hospital workers are now faced with a dwindling supply of protective equipment.
Namely, stocks of facemasks and protective shields are running low, and a massive demand around the nation and globe has made restocking those critical supplies difficult.
Without providing specifics about how long those key supplies could last at Minnesota healthcare facilities, Kris Ehresmann of the Minnesota Department of Health acknowledged Thursday that they're doing all they can to get more.
"We are waiting to hear from the other commercial diagnostic labs to see if they have the resources they need. I know that many of them have not been able to get what they need," she said.
"A lot of the decisions that have been made, including the most recent executive order by the governor, are all intended to slow down the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) so it can be redirected to the areas that need it the most. But it is a problem nationally and internationally. Minnesota will be no different. This is a challenge."
The stark reality Minnesota hospital workers are facing was detailed by Minnesota Wild team reporter Dan Myers, whose wife is a nurse manager at a Twin Cities hospital. Myers wrote specifically about the shortage of N-95 respirator masks and clear plastic shields.
"This isn't something that could happen in a week or two, this is something that could happen TODAY," Myers wrote. "Medical professionals are already re-using supplies they shouldn't be (at their own peril) because treating people with used protection is better than going in with nothing at all. These same people to home at the end of the day to their own families wondering if it is safe to do so.
Myers pleaded that companies with extra masks and shields donate them to healthcare facilities now, adding that he would even pick them up and deliver them to places of need.
"Our medical heroes are putting their health at risk for us," Myers added. "The least we can do is give them the tools needed to keep themselves and their own families safe."
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention's website has a page specifically for healthcare professionals regarding protective equipment in the fight against COVID-19.
On that page, the CDC says there "is an acute shortage of facemasks and other vital protective equipment," and notes that in a worst-case scenario medical staff can "use homemade masks" like a "bandana" or "scarf" for protection.
Gov. Tim Walz has ordered all Minnesota hospitals and clinics to postpone all elective treatments, "including non-emergent elective dental procedures, to focus health care capacity and equipment on responding to COVID-19 cases and other emergencies."
Protective equipment for workers is one issue while a lack of ventilators in Minnesota is another possible issue in the event that more COVID-19 patients require hospitalization and help breathing.
To combat the issue, Medtronic has increased production by more than 40 percent of ventilators to supply healthcare systems around the world.
"It's a problem everywhere and it will be a problem here," Ehresmann concluded Thursday.