ISSAQUAH, Wash. – Two doctors in Washington state, which leads the U.S. in coronavirus deaths, have tested positive for the disease as hospitals scramble to make due with a shortage of masks and other equipment needed to keep them from getting sick.
In the area of Seattle that's been hardest-hit, some nurses in emergency departments are washing and reusing surgical masks, gloves and gowns. They may work on a patient for hours or more before learning they tested positive for COVID-19.
“I've got a two-day supply of masks, so we're trying to be conservative,” said Dr. Stephen Anderson, an emergency physician at the MultiCare Auburn Medical Center in suburban Seattle. "You get one in the morning. You clean it and reuse it.
"I tell my staff to guard your mask with your life, because it is your life."
Many hospitals also lack the more efficient N95 respirator masks, which quickly sold out once the virus reached the U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday urged construction companies to donate any N95 masks — which they use to protect workers from fumes — to their local hospitals.
The death toll in the U.S. from COVID-19 passed the 100 mark on Tuesday, and Washington state accounts for more than half of those fatalities.
The federal government has sent some extra masks and other equipment to the state, though it's unclear when it will be distributed.
This week, a 40-year-old emergency room physician at EvergreenHealth Medical Center in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland was in critical condition after testing positive for COVID-19, officials said.