The first case of the novel coronavirus in the United States had reportedly turned up on the 30th of January, nearly a month after the virus was first discovered in China. Soon more cases began to come to light and the then-president--Donald Trump declared a national emergency in the country and imposed restrictions on flights arriving from China to cease the spread. But the overall response of the country was rather slow and as a result the figure of deaths, caused by the COVID-19, has reached 735 million per person.
The US currently ranks 13th internationally among the countries with the highest number of deaths-- that have occurred as a result of the pandemic. Other than the authorities’ tardy response to this crisis, another additional problem that the US had to deal with similar to other countries was the shortage of N95 masks and other PPE. The N95 mask is a NIOSH approved, CDC and WHO recommended respirator that efficiently filters out 95% airborne particulates that could be potentially dangerous.
How the scarcity of N95s came into being
When the news of the outbreak reached the masses, people lunged towards stores and websites to grab N95s. As a result of the burgeoning demand, we saw a 319% percent increase in the prices of these high in demand respirators that previously could be bought for as low as $1. The high price wasn’t the only problem because the availability of these respirators in stores and online was slim to none as the manufacturers experienced severe trouble in keeping up with the high demand for this product.
The inverse relation between supply and demand and the manufacturer’s inability to produce more N95s in less time were the primary reasons for the shortage and unreasonably high prices of this product. Furthermore, as per the order of WHO and the government, platforms like Amazon had resorted to stopping supplying N95s to the general public because the healthcare workers were in dire need of this PPE and there weren’t enough N95s on hand to support all hospitals across the country.
Does the government now have enough N95s for all hospitals across the US?
The shortage of N95 was prevalent across all states and the healthcare workers were all concerned for their families and their safeties. The situation of the virus was also worsening as the cases were increasing rapidly each day and the lack of PPE was a major contributing factor in this situation because due to the insufficient protection, healthcare workers were also succumbing to the cruelty of this virus. The government took notice of this problem and the former president signed the Defense Production Act which required the major N95 manufacturers of the country to produce this respirator in bulk quantities in the shortest time possible.
The DPA although played its part in alleviating the shortage crisis but it still couldn’t resolve this problem holistically as it failed to facilitate all hospitals in the US with N95s. The DPA was signed in March and the country is now almost into winter and there is still a lack of respirators and PPE that needs to be solved. The hospitals at this point are now so desperate that they have directed their workers and nurses to start reusing N95 masks which could be hazardous to their health since N95 masks are disposable and considering the environment they work in, they should change masks daily.
How the nurses are coping with this problem
Hospitals workers and nurses are feeling unsafe in their work environment as the pandemic continues to rule over America. Their primary reason for concern is the reuse of old N95 masks which is an unprecedented step that could be harmful to everyone. In addition to this, reportedly many nurses also had to leave their jobs during the pandemic because they felt unprotected and that their lives were at stake. Besides this, various sources have also reported that many hospitals are stopping nurses from wearing masks all the time as part of their policies which further adds to this problem.
Using an old N95 mask is against the advice of experts and the product is strictly marketed as disposable which means that it becomes futile after the usage of certain hours and should be discarded. But the current circumstances have forced hospital authorities to imposition such unreasonable orders on its working staff. This is a very alarming problem and the government needs to look into it on an immediate basis. The virus is expected to continue till the summer of 2021 and to avoid another lockdown and high wave that could be the reason for another staggering figure of death.
Soon it’s going to be a year since the beginning of the pandemic and hospitals across the United States are still battling this virus without sufficient PPE and N95 respirators. The healthcare workers, who are the most deserving of the protection of this unique mask are being asked to wear used N95 masks to cope with this unfavorable situation. The reason behind the shortage of N95 masks is still undiscovered as the country continues to gain control of this virus. Even though a vaccine has now been finally manufactured but the virus will continue till next year as per research and if the government of the United States doesn’t acquire sufficient N95s for all their healthcare staff including nurses, the virus could stretch for longer than expected.