North Carolina first responders, nursing home workers feeling the effects of PPE shortages, officials say

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Though some hospitals and health care systems have acquired a significant amount of personal protective equipment, state officials said others on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic are still bearing the brunt of the PPE shortage.

At some of the state's major hospital systems, including University of North Carolina, teams have been able to keep stockpiles of PPE relatively replenished through normal distribution channels, donations and government stockpiles. A representative for UNC Health also said the system is monitoring how quickly health care workers are using the equipment.

Additionally, Wake County officials said the county does not have a shortage of protective equipment for its team that tests people in the community, including in nursing homes.

"At its current usage rate, the field sampling team has more than 11 weeks of PPE available," a representative said.

However, while some systems have enough PPE for its health care workers, Gov. Roy Cooper stressed during a press conference that other hospitals and first responders don't have the equipment they need.

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"Masks and surgical gowns are a big problem across the state," Cooper said.

UNC Health said its system has enough ear loop masks in its inventory, but N95 masks continue to be a highly sought-after item.

Director of Emergency Management Mike Sprayberry echoed the governor's sentiments and said, "To be totally clear, gowns are a shortage in our health care system, so we're still aggressively seeking to find more of them."

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the state received 87,966 gowns from the Strategic National Stockpile out of 500,000 requested items.

In addition, NC DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said nursing homes are asking for protective equipment in large numbers. Out of 6,951 laboratory-confirmed cases in North Carolina, more than 1,000 are in nursing homes.

"Yesterday was one of our biggest days for requests we saw for PPE from nursing homes in particular," Cohen said. "So while certain places and our acute providers may be having better access to PPE, we still know that we have pockets of concern."

Sprayberry added that county agencies--including police and fire departments--may not have the necessary equipment needed to respond to emergencies.

"They're on the front lines of this pandemic," Sprayberry said.

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