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Nurses treating coronavirus patients plead for more protective gear

Consuelo Vargas went to a hardware store Friday, scanning the aisles for anything she felt might protect her.
Vargas is a nurse in the emergency room at Stroger Hospital, where she said she already has treated suspected Chicago COVID-19 patients without wearing a mask. To help feel protected, she purchased coveralls meant for painters and booties to wrap around her shoes.
She and other nurses across the city are growing increasingly concerned about how they can safeguard themselves, their families and their patients when they say their hospitals don’t have enough personal protective equipment like masks, goggles and gowns.
Recently, Vargas said, a supply cart where she accesses available gear only had one surgical mask with a face shield, and none of the hardier N95 masks. Even when masks are available, Vargas said, medical personnel are told to reuse them for five days and given a paper bag to keep them in. She refuses to reuse masks because she feels that puts both her and her patients at risk.
“There’s no way to have a mask that you’ve been using for that amount of time, even after one time, and then put it in a bag and put it on your face and not touch it in the wrong way where you’re not going to contaminate yourself or somebody else,” she said.

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Robert Feldman, attending emergency medicine physician and director of emergency management for Cook County Health, which includes Stroger, said in a statement that hospitals across the country are making difficult decisions to prevent further spread of the virus and protect workers. Chicago News
“Do we look forward to the day when an ample supply of PPE (personal protective equipment) is again available to every hospital? We do,” he said. “But until the supply chain can catch up again, like other hospitals across the country and the world, we have instituted tighter controls.”
Nurse advocates have been raising the alarm about a lack of basic gear to protect them. The Illinois Nurses Association has noted a lack of available face masks and shields and requested better protection. Chicago Medical News
“In these uncertain times, we must make every effort to support nurses so that they can take care of patients in Illinois,” the union said in a statement.
And the American Hospital Association, which represents nearly 5,000 hospitals and health care networks, announced Friday it will ask Congress for $100 billion in aid, including funds for supplies.
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Vargas has treated a patient suspected of having the virus. During the time she helped the patient, which included respiratory procedures, she was not wearing a mask. She is waiting to hear whether the patient tested positive.
“I feel like health care workers are being asked for a lot right now, and we just want what we need to do our jobs,” she said. “It’s like if you tell a construction worker to go work on the Sears Tower and you don’t give them any kind of hard hat, you don’t give them any kind of safety harness. You would never do that.” Chicago Political News
For Vargas, trying to treat patients while worrying about her own safety adds stress to an already difficult assignment.
“It’s kind of a fend-for-yourself environment,” she said. “So the nurses are really having to depend on each other. We feel like we’re in this alone.”
Paul Pater, a co-chief steward of the Illinois Nurses Association and a nurse in the emergency room at University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago, said he has been watching as photos stream in from other countries of health care providers wearing hazmat suits. He and his colleagues, he said, are told to use a face shield, goggles, surgical mask and a disposable gown. Chicago Distribution Service

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