The covid-19 pandemic has entered a frightening new phase, picking up speed in every state and breaking new records almost daily. California and Texas have passed 1 million covid-19 cases, and infections show no signs of slowing.

This new wave of coronavirus infections has hospital resources stretched close to the breaking point in several states, as seriously ill covid-19 patients crowd critical care units. And as bad as it is, the worst is yet to come, experts predict, as people ignore public-health warnings and gather to celebrate the holidays.

At least we have enough medical masks, gloves and gowns to keep healthcare workers safe, right? The supply chains broken by the onset of a global pandemic in spring surely have been repaired by now?

If only that were the case.

While the acuity of the protective gear shortage has lessened over the past few months, the supply chain is still unreliable. Too many healthcare workers, particularly those not in hospitals, still lack adequate supplies of masks, gloves and gowns and are being forced to reuse equipment meant to be thrown away after one wearing. Even the Strategic National Stockpile has only about one-third the N95 masks that the federal government expected to have by now, according to the New York Times.

The U.S. has had eight months to prepare for the expected autumn surge of coronavirus cases, but somehow these basic infection control tools are still in short supply.

Admittedly, access to protective gear has improved since the dark days of April, when doctors and nurses were forced to wash out disposable N95 masks for days on end and use garbage bags when gowns ran out. Stocks are more reliable, at least for some facilities, and states that had the wherewithal to do so, such as California, have built substantial stockpiles of their own. But the PPE pipeline is far from fixed, and it’s likely to be strained again as infections rise in the coming weeks.

— Los Angeles Times


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