As the coronavirus continues to wage war on the United States, health care workers must fight not only the virus, but supply shortages as well. Personal protective supplies continue to dwindle and increasingly more health care professionals are falling ill. Healthcare facilities have been repeatedly assured that supplies are on the way, but such supplies are not being produced quickly enough and will be of little use if healthcare professionals have already contracted the virus by the time more equipment arrives.
On April 2nd, a NYC emergency room doctor experiencing coronavirus like symptoms passed away, becoming the first presumed coronavirus induced ER physician death in the United States. A few days before this, a 64-year-old nurse was claimed by the virus as well as the lives of many other nurses irreplaceable in value as they are vital in saving lives throughout the coronavirus outbreak. It is estimated that thousands of healthcare professionals in the United States have contracted the virus. As Dr. James Willimas summarizes, "It's obviously great that we're getting the ventilators, but you still need respiratory therapists to manage those ventilators, and you need nurses and techs to be there to care for the patients”.
As the U.S. nears the peak and supplies grow ever more scarce, the likelihood of healthcare professionals contracting the virus continues to multiply. With a growing number of healthcare workers left indisposed by the virus and no workers to replace those who fall ill, panic is beginning to ensue in many hotspots and cities expected to see spikes in COVID-19 positives. Measures are being taken to conserve supplies such as sterilizing and reusing N95 masks, but as Dr. Williams states "The N95 mask was never designed to be reused.”
It is unclear exactly how many healthcare workers have contracted the virus as agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are not consistently tracking and reporting data on health care workers. Many states are unable to say the percentage of health care workers COVID-19 positive, but Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Rhode Island have all reported estimates. In Pennsylvania approximately 4.4% of the health care workers are positive for the virus, in Oklahoma health care workers make up 10.6% of confirmed coronavirus patients, 20% of the coronavirus positive cases in Ohio are health care workers, and in Rhode Island, 25% of confirmed COVID-19 cases are health care professionals.
Such data is continually changing, as are the CDC guidelines on handling quarantine for healthcare workers exposed to the virus. In the beginning stages of the pandemic exposed health care workers were made to quarantine for two weeks. The CDC has altered the guidelines and now directs health care workers exposed to the virus to continue working so long as they remain asymptomatic, despite the fact that an estimated 25% of coronavirus positive cases have no symptoms of the virus. Health care workers undergo screening prior to beginning their shifts and are sent home if the screening shows any symptoms.
The health care workforce is stretched thin already, even with 80,000 former health care workers volunteering to reenlist themselves in New York alone, and the number of indisposed health care workers is only expected to grow as the number of coronavirus cases do the same. Many resources are running low in the fight against COVID-19, but perhaps no resource which is so greatly needed as the healthcare workforce.