MILWAUKIE, Ore. (KOIN) — The news that 12 staffers at OHSU tested positive for COVID-19 underscores the ongoing and increasing need for PPE — personal protective equipment.
Monday morning, Governor Kate Brown, Senator Jeff Merkley, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici and frontline workers and employers in Oregon called on the Trump administration to immediately distribute masks and equipment held in the strategic national stockpile.
“I would just say the entire Oregon community that has access to protective equipment has been extremely compassionate, generous and considerate of their fellow Oregonians,” Brown said. “We are incredibly grateful for their donations.”
Since she made her request for PPE donations recently, dentists across Oregon have donated 60,000 masks and 600,000 gloves, gowns and face shields. Plus, 300,000 donations have come from the private sector which has been great progress — but still not enough for everyone on the front lines.
Kevin Mealy with the Oregon Nurses Association said they’re seeing safety standards and supplies drop across the state. Some nurses are keeping used masks in paper bags between patient visits.
“At Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria is where nurses are using Rubbermaid containers to store masks inbetween patient visits,” Mealy said. “But paper bags are the other stopgap and so you’re using the same mask over the 12-hour shift. And so you’re carrying the germs from one patient to another, which doesn’t work if you’re trying to stop the disease from spreading.”
In Clackamas County, Fire Capt. Brandon Paxton told KOIN 6 News said they have a “decent amount” of supplies today, but “we’re not comfortable with it by any means. But as we forecast how long we’re going to be doing this — and there’s already a back order on supplies — where this is really creating stress for all of our firefighters and logistics supply.”
The Clackamas Fire District started a PPE drive to support their efforts and specifically looking for N-95 masks, protective booties, protective hardware, latex or natural gloves and hand sanitizer.
“Those are the 4 key components we’re running short on,” Paxton said, “and understand this is going to be a long term effort and we’re really trying to create a stockpile and put those to good use.”
The request for PPE at the local level follows a familiar chain. In this case, Clackamas Fire asks Clackamas County, the county asks the state and the state asks the feds. But the federal response has been slow, which is why local areas are having these drives.
“We’re taking it upon ourself, as are other agencies, to collect that PPE so we can manage our daily operation with the PPE we collect and have onhand,” said Paxton. “Then hopefully save that resource for other agencies that may need it.”
Residents like Judy Davenport have stepped up. She brought disposable gloves she found in her garage they weren’t using. “We really appreciate these guys staying in business for us,” she said. “Just wanted to help any way that we can.”
Though the focus is on PPE for use with COVID-19 patients, Paxton pointed out other emergencies continues.
“We’re still responding to people’s homes which is at high risk and we’re starting to see, as you can imagine, people who are exhibiting flu-like symptoms which is linked to COVID-19. So we’re asking people to donate this PPE to keep our responders safe, both in the short term and in the long term as we continue to deal with this crisis.”
At this time, he said, none of their firefighters have come down with COVID-19.
“We’re taking all the precautions. We’re very confident in our planning. The piece of the puzzle that’s missing is that long term PPE equipment.”