As the count of coronavirus cases rises in Massachusetts, a growing number of employees at Boston area hospitals are among those testing positive for COVID-19.
More than 100 employees at local hospitals have contracted the illness as of Thursday, according to information provided by four institutions to Boston.com. In their responses, hospitals did not specify the roles of the employees or indicate whether the workers contracted the virus while at work.
As of Thursday morning, Mass. General, Brigham and Women’s, Tufts Medical Center, and Boston Medical Center reported the following number of employee cases:
Brigham and Women’s: 45
Mass. General Hospital: 41
Tufts Medical Center: 39
Boston Medical Center: 15
Health care workers across Massachusetts and the nation on the front lines of the battle against the coronavirus have warned that a shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE, is putting them at risk for COVID-19 while they care for ill patients.
“As more and more COVID-19 patients arrive in emergency rooms, health care workers are terrified,” Dr. Regan Bergmark and Dr. Thomas Tsai, surgeons at the Center for Surgery and Public Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, wrote in a Thursday op-ed for the Boston Globe. “A critical lack of personal protective equipment — masks, N95 respirator masks, and powered air purifying respirators — makes our jobs not just difficult, but dangerous. The consequences of this failure to protect health care workers will be substantial. While it may take years to train a physician or nurse, it may take only a single exposure to kill one.”
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and public health officials said this week “millions” of masks were on order for the state, and that officials continue to “chase” PPE through the federal stockpile.
“This remains one of our highest priorities,” Baker said during a press conference Monday.
Hospitals say maintaining the safety of their employees remains of the utmost importance as the number of patients with COVID-19 increases, but concerns about the shortage of equipment has prompted some, like Brigham and Women’s, to implement strategies to “conserve” the supplies. Last week, the hospital announced that a new policy would allow for the reuse and extended use of disposable surgical and procedural masks and protective eye wear.
“We have implemented a PPE conservation strategy that will allow us to deploy PPE to the members of our workforce who are most at risk of exposure, now and throughout this pandemic,” a statement on the hospital website reads. “As much as is practicable, we will centralize the supply of mission-critical PPE to optimize proper use and avoid misuse, including use of a designated distribution center for staff to obtain N95 masks, surgical masks, procedural masks, and face shields or goggles.”
Brigham and Women’s is also starting to implement freestanding booths, such as have been used in South Korea, for coronavirus testing. The booths will help reduce the need for PPE, the hospital said.
After each use, the booth is cleaned using disinfectant wipes. The booths will be set up at the Brigham’s tented #COVID19 testing facilities on the main campus.
— Brigham and Women’s (@BrighamWomens) March 26, 2020
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which is not providing information on the number of cases among hospital employees, says it is experiencing a shortage of supplies.
“We are doing everything in our power to protect our dedicated staff on the front lines and obtain additional resources for them as they work working tirelessly to keep our communities healthy,” Marsha Maurer, Senior Vice President of Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer at BIDMC, said in a statement to Boston.com. “We have also undertaken robust supply conservation efforts across the Beth Israel Lahey Health system.”
The concern about the shortage of N95 respirators, surgical masks and precaution gowns is shared at Boston Medical Center.
“BMC is conserving inventory of PPE to protect our staff and patients for the duration of the pandemic,” the hospital said in a statement to Boston.com this week. “BMC is proactively and aggressively sourcing additional PPE from existing and new suppliers as well as using creative approaches to utilize PPE provided by other industries such as construction masks and respirators.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Tufts said the hospital leadership team is working to ensure they have an “abundance” of PPE and lab supplies to prepare for an influx of COVID-19 patients.
Tufts leadership “thoroughly analyzes the risks to our employees every day and explores all potential solutions to ensure our employees have the necessary protection now, and in the coming weeks, when the risk is highest,” the statement said. “We are exploring all options for the near future, including pushing for governmental assistance and the possible use of handmade cloth masks and other innovative strategies. At this time, we continue to follow institutional protocols, which are based on evidence and CDC guidance, around the type of PPE to be used for the care of patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.”
In addition to monetary donations to aid with the response to COVID-19, hospitals are asking for donations of supplies and equipment:
Mass. General Hospital: https://www.massgeneral.org/news/coronavirus/how-you-can-help
Brigham and Women’s: https://www.brighamandwomens.org/deptforms/covid-19-donations
Boston Medical Center: https://www.bmc.org/covid19relief
Tufts Medical Center: https://giving.tuftsmedicalcenter.org/donation-forms/donation-forms-makethedifference
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: https://www.bilh.org/donations
<h2>Scenes from an eerily empty Boston</h2>
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