Of Minnesota's 169 coronavirus patients, 34 are healthcare workers

It comes amid an ongoing shortage of protective equipment.
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Of Minnesota's 169 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 34 of the patients are healthcare workers.

The figure was announced by Minnesota Department of Health infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann Sunday, and comes amid wider concerns over the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the nation's frontline health workers.

Ehresmann said that most of the 34 cases in the healthcare sector are related to travel, suggesting that at least some cases have involved community transmission – instances in which a patient gets the virus but not from travel or from living with someone already with COVID-19.

It's not surprising that healthcare workers account for around one-fifth of the total number of confirmed cases in Minnesota given that for several days now, the state has been limiting testing to medical staff, the hospitalized, and those in congregant living situations like long-term care due to a shortage of test kits.

There is growing concern at the national level about the safety of the country's healthcare workers amid a nationwide shortage of N-95 respirator masks and other PPE.

This weekend New York governor Andrew Cuomo has called on the federal government to take over the production and distribution of PPE and facemasks, which comes after President Donald Trump said this week that states should go out and get PPE "on their own" if it means getting the equipment faster.

Cuomo says this has sparked a bidding war among states to the point that facemasks are being sold at rates as high as $7 per mask.

And Newsweek reported this week that Massachusetts' Republican Governor Charlie Baker said his own state had actually been outbid by the federal government for a cache of PPE.

Speaking Sunday, Ehresmann conceded that Minnesota has also found itself bidding for equipment, and tentatively backed the comments from Gov. Cuomo that the federal government should play a larger role in distribution.

"We have heard of challenges in obtaining PPE and ending up bidding against the federal government, obviously we're all in competition for products that are in very short supply," she said.

"We would all be grateful for anything that addresses that and if that would happen at the federal government that would be great."

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President Trump on Friday said he had invoked the Defense Production Act, which is designed to allow the government to direct private companies to manufacture supplies to be used in response to national emergencies.

But on Sunday, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Peter Gaynor told CNN's Jake Tapper that the federal government has not yet ordered any company to make more supplies.

This weekend has seen the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) carry out a donation drive asking for vital medical equipment be donated by private citizens, such as facemasks and nitrile gloves.

The situation has become so dire in some parts of the country that the CDC has issued guidance that says as a last resort healthcare workers should use scarves or bandanas to cover their mouths and noses.

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