coronavirus

Medstar Has Only Five-Day Supply of Masks

Fort Worth ambulance service is scrambling to find more

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In these unprecedented days, it's not just the coronavirus that worries first responders, it's a crisis within the crisis -- a shortage of essential protective equipment like masks.

"The availability and the ability to get PPE, personal protective equipment, is the thing that's keeping us up at night,” Medstar spokesman Matt Zavadsky said.

Medstar serves Fort Worth and some nearby communities.

The system's supply of masks -- including the more protective gear known as N-95 -- will run out in five days, he said, and efforts to find more have fallen short.

"If we don't have the PPE, the health care workers get exposed, they have to be quarantined, the whole system collapses,” Zavadsky said.

It's suddenly a nationwide problem.

"We are the first link in the public health care chain and when we lose the ability to protect that initial first link, we're in a dangerous situation,” said Jim Brinkley of the National Association of Firefighters.

President Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act, to speed production of masks and other needed supplies.

Until that help comes, Medstar and other first responders are scrambling to find ways to ration masks.

They're changing protocols, like limiting the number of first responders who come into contact with patients.

"I know that we're going to figure it out somehow because not figuring it out is not an option,” Zavadsky said.

Across the country, people are volunteering to make new masks from scratch.

A hospital near Seattle even put out a guide about how to do it online with the aim of creating 100 million.

Medstar is also getting creative, even reaching out to construction crews that wear the same masks, asking them to give up some of theirs in what has quickly become an emergency situation.

"We have to figure this out and figure it out pretty quickly,” Zavadsky said.

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