Months into the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of nurses say they still don’t have adequate protective gear and have had to reuse masks and respirators while treating COVID-19 patients, according to a new survey.
Of the nearly 23,000 nurses who responded to the survey conducted by the union National Nurses United between April 15 and May 10, 87% reported that they’ve had to reuse what should be single-use, disposable N95 respirators or surgical masks when treating a COVID-19 patient due to ongoing mass shortages of personal protective equipment. Meanwhile, 27% said they were exposed to patients who tested positive for the disease while they didn’t have appropriate PPE. And, the nurses said, they still had to return to work within 14 days of their exposure.
“This new survey shows that nurses are still fighting today for optimal personal protective equipment (PPE), fighting to get tested, and fighting for their own lives, and their patients’ lives,” NNU executive director Bonnie Castillo said in a statement.
As of Tuesday, there have been more than 1.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US, and more than 90,000 people have died from the disease. According to the union’s internal tracking, the deaths include more than 100 nurses, however, the true impact healthcare workers is likely more devastating due to inconsistent testing and tracking.
“We are left to conclude that what we are worried about, what we are concerned about in our nonprotection is ultimately hurting and killing us,” NNU co-president Jean Ross told BuzzFeed News.
N95 respirators and surgical masks should only be used once, according to their manufacturers, but the CDC has said that due to the shortages, hospitals may have to consider reusing gear as a crisis strategy to conserve supplies.