Over the past five months, New York hospitals, public facing groups and businesses have called on the city and state to get adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), as major shortages took hold across the city.
Now, as we move to a new phase of the pandemic, there is an increasing focus on making PPE sustainable given there is no end in sight to when it will be needed.
This is especially the case in hospitals.
To address this, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams penned a letter to the mayor and governor co-signed by healthcare professionals calling for the increased production and distribution of reusable PPE. The letter cites the lack of long term plans to deal with a shortage in equipment, which includes face shields, gowns and masks.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives and has placed a tremendous demand on personal protective equipment for our health care workers,” Williams said in the letter. “The lack of a clear end to this pandemic requires hospitals to create a long-term plan to deal with shortages of PPE.”
He said the constant replacement of N-95 masks to the adequate level now and after the pandemic was unsustainable. He said in order to follow safety protocols an ICU or ER nurse could use between 30-40 single-use N-95 respirators each day, as opposed to one re-usable elastomeric respirator, a reusable respirator mask. The reusable mask was also much more cost effective, he said.
“We urge you to include and promote the partial replacement of N-95s with durable and sustainable reusable PPE for our frontline health care workers in city and state-level procurement initiatives,” he urged the city leaders.
Jinean Robinson of COVID Courage, a group that works to get PPE in the hands of healthcare workers and whose founder Dr. Natasha Anandaraja co-wrote the letter with Williams, said reusable PPE made more economic and environmental sense, as well as being helpful to frontline nurses and doctors.
“If you have a filter set rotation, you can use it forever,” Robinson said. “It helps to protect them, and they’re comfortable. They actually like them.”
She said that so far the organization had got 600 reusable PPE items into Brooklyn hospitals. The greatest need, she said, was reusable masks.
“There aren’t any local manufacturers of respirators,” Robinson said. “[They are] mainly looking at gowns, face shields…and sanitizers.”
In Brooklyn, various companies have produced PPE, including at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which started the “Made in the Yard” initiative for PPE. Fashion design company OGONewYork of Bay Ridge is currently making reusable masks and hopes to make them FDA approved for medical use by 2021.
During the coronavirus pandemic Nate Kolbeck and his team at printing and design company 3D Brooklyn made more than 15,000 reusable face shields for frontline workers. But recently, Kolbeck said the money to make them had run out and requests had died down as hospitals and other groups were being supplied with disposable face shields.
Dr. Anu Anandaraja of COVID Courage emphasized in a speech on Aug. 5 at the Brooklyn Hospital Center how important it was to transition to reusable PPE.
“These masks represent economic savings, environmental savings,” Anandaraja said. “But more than that, they represent sustainability, resilience, self-reliance and the lives of our healthcare workers.”
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