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US coronavirus doctors 'told to wear trash bags' as safety supplies run low
27 March 2020, 14:46
US healthcare workers fighting coronavirus have described "rationing" critical supplies as they treat "cascades" of patients "gasping for air" behind glass amid the worsening pandemic.
Emergency nurse Valerie Gruhn said on Thursday - hours after the US overtook China to become the worst-hit nation in the world - that her colleagues' faces likened those seen "on the field when working in Ebola or in war zones".
She described her department being "converted into closed glass doors with people behind them gasping for air" and how most medics had "never signed up for this".
Written on their faces, she said: "It's fear, it's exhaustion, it's grief."
We are now a monolith. We started with a medical ICU, surgical ICU, cardiac ICU, neurosurgical ICU, and a cardiothoracic ICU, plus a dozen mixed specialty floors. Every floor and unit is becoming a COVID unit. There is no more specialization — we’re all treating one thing.— Zachary D Levy MD (@ZLevyMD) March 25, 2020
"They were not trained for it, not professionally and even less mentally.
"American healthcare providers are not used to making choices due to scarcity, and now, as our [personal protective equipment] supply dwindles and ventilators are becoming scarce for our patients, we are forced to make decisions that will either end the life of a patient or our own."
Meanwhile on Thursday, a critical care doctor in Miami, Florida, said she had been told to wear "trash bags" in place of medical gowns due to lacking supplies.
Natalia Solenkova wrote on Twitter: "To cover the back - put the trash bag around your neck and tie down the ends. Modern doctor's superhero cape."
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My cousin died presumptively positive for COVID-19 last night. She was 40, had 2 kids, and was extubated in the same hospital where my best friend is working with dangerously inadequate protective gear. Please stay home.— 𝗦𝘁𝗲𝗽𝗵𝗮𝗻𝗶𝗲 𝗞𝗿𝗮𝗺𝗲𝗿 (@_StephKramer) March 26, 2020
It comes as the US Senate agreed to a record $2.2 trillion (£1.8 trillion) emergency package to help prop up struggling businesses and unemployed Americans this week.
In New York state, the epicentre of the domestic outbreak, a hundred deaths were reported in a day, with Governor Andrew Cuomo warning there was more to come as critically ill patients succumb to the disease.
The US is now dangerously edging closer to realising fears of its healthcare systems becoming overwhelmed in similar scenarios seen in Italy and Spain.
Craig Spencer, the director of global health in emergency medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital, said earlier in the week his hospital had become "all COVID".
On Friday, he said his colleague had just shared a story of a "healthy 49-year-old who was diagnosed with Covid-19 and died in a chair in the emergency room (ER)."
He said: "Our ER's and [intensive care units] are filling up, despite what you hear at task force updates.
"We are not near the end of this. We are hardly at the beginning."
Today I was officially instructed to wear trash bags instead of blue plastic gowns. To cover the back - put trash bag around your neck & tie down the ends. Modern doctor's superhero cape. @HealthyFla @CDCgov @HHSGov #GetMePPE #COVID19 #coronavirus #medtwitter #ICU #criticalcare— Natalia Solenkova (@SolNataMD) March 26, 2020
A New York-based internal medicine resident called Meredith said that Thursday was "the worst day anyone has ever seen" and predicted that Friday would "be worse".
She said: "We are on the precipice of rationing...Floor beds were converted to ICU beds on the fly as a cascade of patients in the [emergency department] and on the floor required emergent intubation."
"Staffing these beds requires incredible resources. Hard to say which will run out first - staffing, physical beds, ventilators, or other life support devices."
By Friday, Meredith said she had experienced "another onslaught" during her latest shift, and said the physical, emotional and mental health of the nursing staff had been "pushed to the brink."
According to the Washington Post, the emergency services in New York City alone received 6,406 calls on Thursday - the highest number ever recorded in the city, which it said surpassed the record set on 11 September, 2001.
The US now has more than 85,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 - ahead of China, Italy and Spain, while more than 1,200 people have lost their lives to the disease.