Health Care Workers Need Masks (and the Rest of Us Need Them, Too)

from ReasonTV

DIY manufactures scramble to reduce shortages, as public health officials send mixed messages about the efficacy of broader use.

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“Everyone at this point is kind of on their own, making ready for being able to reuse?especially masks?but also things like gowns and plastic sheets to be able to keep our barriers when we’re doing difficult procedures with patients,” says Case Newsom, an emergency medicine doctor based in Denver. 

Doctors around the country are running dangerously low on N95 masks, which protocol says they should wear and then dispose of every time they walk out of an infected patient’s room. So they’re reusing the same masks repeatedly and learning to sew their own surgical masks.

“My colleagues on the East Coast…are facing significant shortages,” says Newsom. “So they’re busy at work creating UV decontamination ovens on their own because those are expensive and difficult to come by, but easy enough to produce.” 

The federal government estimates that medical professionals will need 3.5 billion masks if the worst-case projections come true. The U.S. currently had about 1 percent of that number on hand at the beginning of March.

Charities and major corporations have donated masks to hospitals, and manufacturers like Honeywell and 3M have stepped up production.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has asked President Donald Trump to use the Defense Production Act to force companies to start making masks.

And yet official channels likely won’t come close to meeting the needs of health care workers, so some technologists are taking matters into their own hands. But will government officials adhere to existing regulations and slow down these efforts? And if mask production increased to serve the entire population, could it hasten the end of the extreme social distancing crippling our economy?

Produced by Zach Weissmueller, additional graphics by Josh Swain

Music: “Environmental Disaster Zone,” “Trees in the Wind,” and “Call Me” by Daniel Birch licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License. 

Photos: medical workers putting on protective gear, Eddie Siguenza/Us Army/ZUMA Press/Newscom; worker delivering masks, Ron Adar/Zuma Press/Newscom; doctor putting on mask, Sara Eshleman/U.S. Navy/Zuma Press/Newscom; social distancing outside Whole Foods, Richard B. Levine/Newscom; masks on public transit in Hong Kong, Tang Yan/Zuma Press/Newscom; masks at airport in Hong Kong, May James/SOPA Images/Sipa USA/Newscom; Andrew Cuomo Giving Presser, SteveSands/NewYorkNewswire/MEGA/Newscom; ID 173833922 © Sopone Nawoot |