Doctors Are Pleading for People to Donate PPE Gear—Here's How You Can Help
To be able to care for COVID-19 patients without compromising their own health, the health of their families, and without passing the infection to others, America’s frontline healthcare workers need adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). But right now, respirators, surgical masks, gloves, and other essential supplies are in dangerously short supply in many hospitals, particularly in metropolitan centers.
This is, of course, is due to average US citizens—not medical workers—stockpiling masks and other essential supplies for themselves, in hopes that the equipment will protect them from catching COVID-19. (FYI: The CDC, WHO, and other health agencies across the world recommend the average person does not use face masks—either surgical or N95 respirator masks—unless they are feeling ill themselves and must venture out into public.)
In response to the PPE shortage, a group of scientists, engineers, and medical professionals living in the US have created an initiative called PPE Link, and have set up the website #FindtheMasks, asking research labs, private and public research institutions, and academic institutions to donate PPE to help keep healthcare workers—and the people they come into contact with—safe.
One of the PPE Link founders, aerospace engineer Zahra Khan, tells Health that she joined some Facebook and Slack groups for engineers trying to help address technical needs during the pandemic. "A significant focus has been on supplying personal protective equipment to hospitals," Khan says. “Most of the efforts I’d seen were focused on makers of manufacturing masks and other supplies for hospitals or trying to have individuals with stockpiles donate." But Khan, whose most recent job involved working in a spacecraft testing clean room, saw opportunities elsewhere, as well. "I realized there was an opportunity for scientific labs to donate supplies to hospitals in need especially as many non-essential labs are currently not operating.”
Khan started to find collaborators for the initiative on March 18. By coincidence, one of her doctor friends, Rabia Razi from Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles, reached out and asked her to connect her to a local academic lab for a donation. “This cemented the idea that this was needed,” Khan says.
The initiative has only grown since then, as people from all fields come together to volunteer to do what they can to help, from writing software to do automated matching and contacting labs for donations, to publicizing the initiative to both hospitals in need and potential donors.
Adding to the efforts, many of the heroes on the frontlines are using the hashtag #GetMePPE on social media to ask for help—and the pleas are heartbreaking. "Don’t make us orphan our two toddlers,” wrote one frontline doctor in NYC, whose partner is also treating COVID-19 patients. “Running out of masks, eye protection and gloves at work.”
An ICU nurse in Georgia tweeted a picture of brown bags on a table, each one labeled with the name of a nurse or doctor. “We are told to keep and reuse these masks, which under normal conditions would be thrown out each time we leave the isolation room,” she wrote.
And on Instagram, an ER nurse in Michigan had harsh words for those stealing essential medical supplies. “We need those masks, disinfecting wipes and gloves MORE THAN YOU. We are exposed and in DIRECT contact with this virus," she wrote. “This selfishness needs to stop. Show some compassion to those truly in need. Rant done."
According to PPE Link, the equipment frontline workers need most urgently are N95 respirators, surgical masks (these come in multiple colors and are being used in place of N95 masks in many places), protective glasses/goggles, nitrile gloves, head covers, face shields and disinfectant wipes. Disposable suits and booties are also in short supply.
If you, your business, or someone you know has any of these items (in your basement, your emergency kit, etc.) PPE Link suggests calling your local hospital and letting the charge nurse know what you have. They might say they don’t need what you have, but things are changing rapidly, so call back in a couple of days.
And if you learn of a hospital taking donations from the public, the PPE Link website has a form you can fill in to get it added to the list. PPE Link also has a list of donation sites in some states, which will expand into a nationwide list of donation sites with drop-off procedures over the coming days. If you can volunteer to contact labs for donations and help match hospitals requesting help, as well as general marketing efforts, you can contact the team via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ppelink2020.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.
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