US coronavirus doctors 'told to wear trash bags' as safety supplies run low

27 March 2020, 14:46

Doctors report running out of supplies as 'cascades' of patients rushed in
Doctors report running out of supplies as 'cascades' of patients rushed in. Picture: PA
Rachael Kennedy

By Rachael Kennedy

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."

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"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."

READ MORE: New York doctor who survived Ebola reveals just how afraid he is of coronavirus

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."

READ MORE: Boris Johnson tests positive for coronavirus

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.

READ MORE: 'Unusual' last request to NHS doctor before coronavirus patient put on ventilator

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".

READ MORE: Healthcare workers reveal facial sores after wearing protective gear for hours on end

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."

READ MORE: Madrid doctor battling coronavirus 'with push-ups' reveals effect of disease on his lungs

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."

READ MORE: M&S bank worker who 'didn't want to waste NHS time' dies alone in isolation

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.

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