Protective gear for medical workers begins to run low again

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FILE - In this July 5, 2020, file photo, healthcare workers help each other with their personal protective equipment at a drive-thru coronavirus testing site outside Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. The PPE that was in dangerously short supply during the initial weeks of the coronavirus crisis in the U.S. is running out again as the virus resumes its rapid spread and the number of hospitalized patients climbs. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

The personal protective gear that was in dangerously short supply during the early weeks of the coronavirus crisis in the U.S. is running low again as the virus resumes its rapid spread and the number of hospitalized patients climbs.

A national nursing union is concerned that gear has to be reused. A doctors association warns that physicians’ offices are closed because they cannot get masks and other supplies. And Democratic members of Congress are pushing the Trump administration to devise a national strategy to acquire and distribute gear in anticipation of the crisis worsening into the fall.

“We’re five months into this and there are still shortages of gowns, hair covers, shoe covers, masks, N95 masks,” said Deborah Burger, president of National Nurses United, who cited results from a survey of the union's members. "They’re being doled out, and we’re still being told to reuse them.”

When the crisis first exploded in March and April in hot spots such as New York City, the situation was so desperate that nurses turned plastic garbage bags into protective gowns. The lack of equipment forced states and hospitals to compete against each other, the federal government and other countries in desperate, expensive bidding wars.

In general, supplies of protective gear are more robust now, and many states and major hospital chains say they are in better shape. But medical professionals and some lawmakers have cast doubt on those improvements as shortages begin to reappear.

In other virus-related developments Tuesday:

— Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, said he has tested positive for COVID-19 after months of downplaying the virus’ severity. The 65-year-old populist confirmed the test results while speaking to reporters in the capital of Brasilia. Bolsonaro has often appeared in public to shake hands with supporters and mingle with crowds, at times without a mask.

— The Trump administration formally notified the United Nations of its withdrawal from the World Health Organization. The move makes good on President Donald Trump’s vow to terminate U.S. participation in the WHO, which he has criticized for its response to the pandemic and accused of bowing to Chinese influence. The pullout will not take effect until next year, meaning it could be rescinded under a new administration or if circumstances change.