U.S. could require 7 billion respirators & face masks…we have only 20 technicians at each hospital


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Excerpts from National Geographic

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U.S. has only a fraction of the medical supplies it needs to combat coronavirus.

The country could require seven billion respirators and face masks over the course of the outbreak.

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Three hundred million respirators and face masks. That’s what the United States needs as soon as possible to protect health workers against the coronavirus threat. But the nation’s emergency stockpile has less than 15 percent of these supplies.

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Last week, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar testified before the Senate that the Strategic National Stockpile has just 30 million surgical masks and 12 million respirators in reserves, which came as a surprise considering that the stockpile’s inventory is generally not disclosed for national security reasons. Asked by National Geographic about the discrepancy, a senior official with the Strategic National Stockpile said the department intends to purchase as many as 500 million respirators and face masks over the next 18 months.

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Even such a promised surge in production may not be enough—and it may not come soon enough. A widely overlooked study conducted five years ago by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the United States might need as many as seven billion respirators in the long run to combat a worst-case spread of a severe respiratory outbreak such as COVID-19….

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The panicked demand and lack of supplies was predictable. China manufactures roughly 50 percent more medical and pharmaceutical supplies than its nearest competitor, the U.S., according to data supplied to National Geographic by Euromonitor International. But the Asian country now needs those precious supplies for its tens of thousands of cases, at a time when manufacturing has slowed across the country….

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Based on the models, U.S. health care workers would need two to seven billion respirators for the least- to most-severe possible scenarios. That’s up to 233 times more than what’s currently in the Strategic National Stockpile.

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“The demand that would be required in a severe pandemic is so unlike the amount that’s used on a day-to-day basis,” says Lisa Koonin, an epidemiologist and founder of Health Preparedness Partners. She worked for the CDC for more than 30 years and is a co-author on these reports. “For the respirators and surgical masks, we’re talking orders of magnitude greater need for a severe pandemic.”…

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Along with the billions of respirators, the CDC predicted that U.S. patients and health care workers might need as many as 100 to 400 million surgical masks, as well as 7,000 to 11,000 mechanical ventilators. The latter are used during life support for the most severe cases of respiratory disease, after a patient’s lungs stop working on their own. A report published Friday in the New England Journal of Medicine states that about 2.3 percent of early coronavirus patients underwent mechanical ventilation.

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But ventilators, respirators, and even basic masks are only helpful when used by expert hands—and that presents another potential shortfall for the U.S….

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“In a severe pandemic, we certainly could run out of ventilators, but a hospital could just as soon run out of respiratory therapists who normally operate these devices,” says Toner. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the U.S. employs 134,000 respiratory specialists, or approximately 20 of these technicians for every hospital in America….

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“One of [the CDC’s] conclusions was, it’s not so much the number of ventilators as the number of people needed to operate the ventilators. That’s the choke point,” Toner adds….

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[Mayo Clinic] goes “through a lot of gloves in health care, and the numbers can be staggering,” Toner says. “Particularly with a disease like this where some people are advocating double gloving, you’ll burn through gloves twice as fast.”…

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