PPE shortages leave providers scrambling during pandemic — 5 key things to know

International shortages of personal protective equipment such as masks, gowns and face shields are leaving physicians and nurses "dangerously ill-equipped to care for COVID-19 patients," the World Health Organization declared March 3.

Five things to know about the situation:

1. Nurses are pleading for help. On March 18, a group of 13 nursing organizations met with President Donald Trump and White House officials to express concerns about PPE and ventilator supplies. National Nurses United, a union representing 150,000 nurses, separately said the lack of PPE puts nurses and their families at risk. Meanwhile, the hashtag #GetMePPE has taken hold online as a rallying cry from medical professionals.

2. President Trump invoked a wartime law. The president told a group of governors March 16 that they should seek out respirators, ventilators or other needed equipment themselves rather than waiting on the federal government to supply it, The New York Times reported. However, two days later, he invoked the Defense Production Act which, when activated, will allow the federal government to force companies to increase production of goods. The president said he was invoking the law "just in case we need it," and the White House outlined plans to increase production of ventilators, face masks and other equipment.

3. States continue to take action. In New York, where cases of COVID-19 are doubling about every three days, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told healthcare facilities the state will buy any ventilators going unused.

The Ohio Department of Health ordered hospitals to postpone most elective surgeries and procedures, a move meant to conserve PPE; the estimated amount of personal protective equipment that Ohio healthcare workers need is equal to the amount currently available nationally.

Tennessee's governor issued a similar mandate that not only temporarily prohibits hospitals, ASCs, and dental surgery centers from performing elective surgeries, but also requires ASCs to donate PPE. Illinois' governor has ordered ASCs to donate unused and unneeded PPE as well.

4. Device and tech companies step up to the plate. The leaders of several major global technology companies, including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Microsoft President Brad Smith, have declared their intent to deliver millions of medical supplies to front-line healthcare professionals around the world. As for device companies, Life Spine and Gizmo Medical partnered to produce surgical masks and gowns. Medtronic pledged to increase ventilator production in collaboration with Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

5. Masks become "DIY" projects. Nurses at Glenwood Springs, Colo.-based Valley View Hospital and the nurse administrator at a Minnesota ASC have begun sewing face masks with leftover supplies and donations. Joann Fabrics is asking employees to report to work — despite some states' shelter-in-place orders for nonessential workers — to create DIY mask kits for customers.

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