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Seattle hospital workers are using office supplies to make protective masks because of a severe shortage

Getting creative — and desperate

Karen Ducey/Getty Images

A severe shortage of protective masks in Seattle, one of the cities hit hardest by the coronavirus, has led some hospital workers to start making them out of material purchased at office supply and craft stores, Bloomberg reported.

What's the problem? Patient volume has sharply increased in Seattle, and the highly contagious nature of the coronavirus means more hospital personnel need personal protective equipment in order to safely treat those patients.

But, because supplies were not stocked enough to cope with a pandemic, hospitals nationwide are on the verge of running out — which could create significant risk to doctors and nurses, who would be forced out of service if they contracted the virus. From Bloomberg:

"Many ER physicians are taking things into their own hands to find ways to protect themselves," said Aimee Moulin, an emergency room doctor at UC Davis Medical Center. "They shouldn't be forced to worry about this. They're going into battle and they should be armed with whatever they need."

Some doctors are taking the N95 masks home to wash them with bleach so they can be reused. One hospital ordered protective equipment from a company that supplies goggles and masks to construction workers. One emergency department restitched old surgical masks, where the elastic bands had failed.

"These aren't normal times," said Vivian Reyes, an emergency room doctor in San Francisco and president of the California chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians. "Our supply chain has been stunted. We're not getting new supplies and our stores are almost depleted."

The federal stockpile of masks was depleted in 2009 due to H1N1 and was not fully replenished after that.

How Seattle hospitals are coping: The Providence St. Joseph Health system in Washington, a 51-hospital system, may run out of face shields and masks soon.

"We are very close to being out of face shields," said Becca Bartles, executive director of infection prevention at Providence St. Joseph Health, according to Bloomberg. "Masks, we're probably a couple of days away (from running out)."

Providence employees are now going to office supply and craft stores to get materials like marine-grade vinyl, foam, elastic, and industrial tape to make their own masks. Admin workers created an assembly line Tuesday to make 500 masks for a Seattle hospital.

Seattle has the second-most coronavirus cases of any state in the U.S., with more than 900 cases and 50 deaths.

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