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MARCH 31, 2020 -- As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads over the country, nearly half (48%) of US healthcare facilities — of various types and sizes — are already or almost out of respirators for treating patients, according to the results of a national online survey of infection prevention professionals.
Conducted from March 23-25 by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), the survey asked APIC's 11,922 US-based infection preventionist members to rank their facilities' supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and key items, such as hand sanitizer and cleaning products, on a 5-point scale from having "plenty" to "none."
Overall, 1140 (9.6%) infection preventionists responded. Almost 70% of respondents represented a healthcare system rather than a single facility, and facilities ranged from hospitals (42.7%) to ambulatory care (17.4%) and dialysis (2.7%). The centers, from all 50 states and Washington DC, ranged in size from those with 1 to 50 beds to those with more than 300 beds.
Of the respondents, 233 (20.4%) reported their facilities have no protective respirators and 317 (27.8%) said they were almost out of the devices, which are needed to protect healthcare workers managing patients with COVID-19 and different infectious diseases.
The survey was posted Friday on the APIC website.
Other findings from the survey include:
- Nearly half of respondents (49.2%) said their centers lack sufficient enough face shields, with 36.5% reporting being almost out and 12.6% reporting being completely out.
- Approximately one third (31.7%) of respondents reported being completely or nearly out of face masks.
- Even simple hand sanitizer is in short supply at more than 1 in 4 facilities surveyed; 25.6% of respondents said they are almost out and 2.6% are completely out.
- Nearly 30% of respondents reported accessing supplemental PPE through state or local resources, while 24.6% said they accepted private donations of supplies.
- Fewer than one third (31.5%) said they had sufficient gowns.
- About 28% said they were almost out of protective respirators, while 20.5% said they have none.
- Only 12.3% said they have received supplies from federal resources, including the Strategic National Stockpile, which is controlled by the Department of Health and Human Services.
- 17.2% of respondents reported resorting to DIY measures such as sewing their own masks.
In terms of staffing resources, 67% of respondents said their center has only one (or fewer) full-time–equivalent infection preventionist on staff to develop protocols for managing COVID-19. That is not surprising given the general underresourcing of infection control programs, the survey compilers said.
"Hospitals and health facilities with fewer than one full-time person on staff to direct infection prevention activities may have been disadvantaged even before the COVID-19 pandemic," said APIC president Connie Steed, MSN, RN, in a related news release.
On a more positive note, about two thirds of facilities said they have sufficient supplies of gloves (63.4%) and hand washing soap (67.1%).
At some centers, however, the situation is not so grim — yet. The large Harris Health System in Houston, Texas, has enough PPE on hand to support all infection prevention protocols in place, according to Bryan McLeod, director of corporate communications. "The PPE inventory varies from a few weeks to well over a month depending on the specific item," McLeod told Medscape Medical News. "But everything is dependent on the utilization rate, which can vary with patient volume. Our concern is long-term resupply while demand is peaking around the world, and we continue to pursue all avenues to secure resupply."
Above all, Steed emphasizes healthcare workers' need for clarity. "They need to know when exactly they can expect desperately needed supplies to arrive so they don't have to turn to unproven crisis methods for PPE," she said. "There have been grim reports from health officials about the supply shortage for weeks and we're not getting any answers. This is unacceptable."
APIC is urging the federal government for immediate activation of the Cold War–era Defense Production Act and any other available means to quickly manufacture vital supplies to protect healthcare workers treating the escalating numbers of COVID-19 patients.
In the meantime, frontline healthcare workers are scouring the Internet for suppliers and begging online for donations of masks.
APIC notes that the COVID-19 pandemic is compounded by this year's particularly severe influenza season, which had already led overcrowded healthcare facilities.
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