As of 11:30 a.m. Monday, March 23, 107 Maine residents have been confirmed positive for the coronavirus, according to the state. Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support this mission by purchasing a digital subscription.
The outbreak of COVID-19, commonly referred to as coronavirus, has thrown a long list of new and jargony terms into common use. Terms like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” have found their way into the mainstream as people do their part to help slow the spread of this potentially deadly virus.
Another term getting more and more attention is PPE, or personal protective equipment. This is health care terminology for the masks, face shields, gloves and other equipment that health care workers across the country and world are already relying on as they fight what President Donald Trump has rightly dubbed “ the invisible enemy.”
The enemy may be invisible, but the need for a stronger and more transparent federal effort to provide PPE supplies to states is plainly evident. Health care workers are on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, and sending them to battle without the supplies they need, to protect both patients and themselves, is a recipe for further spread of the disease.
Health care workers, and governors around the country from both parties, have raised alarm bells about PPE supplies. State officials are saying they aren’t getting enough from the federal government’s Strategic National Stockpile of medical supplies, and have to compete with each other and other countries in an open market experiencing shortages. Worse, they are competing against the federal government, which is also buying up supplies.
Trump has pushed back, saying that states should play the primary role in acquiring this equipment and insisting that the federal government is “ not a shipping clerk.”
Now isn’t the time for political maneuvering. It’s time for collaborative efforts to figure out where the existing PPE supplies are, where the supplies need to be sent, and how to make more. In this time of crisis, that’s a job for the U.S. government, and its massive power as a consumer, to take greater charge of. It’s not a political consideration, but a logistical one.
On Sunday, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah said that his agency planned to distribute 22,000 PPE items including facemasks, face shields and gloves across Maine on Monday. Shah said the Maine CDC also expects to get additional equipment from the federal government, but that even more is needed to assist health care providers here in the state.
“It’s still not sufficient,” Shah said. “What we have gotten is a start, but it’s still not what we need right now.”
Last week, Gov. Janet Mills sent a letter to the Trump administration calling for the federal government to provide more PPE and testing equipment to the state through the Strategic National Stockpile.
“In the setting of a national emergency, states should not have to struggle with equipping front-line providers with PPE given the supplies on hand at the SNS. At present, the demand from providers and first responders in our state will soon outstrip our available supply, even with the initial distribution,” Mills wrote in her March 19 letter. “The sooner that SNS can distribute additional PPE, the sooner that the State of Maine can work with the health care system in Maine to distribute those supplies and ensure our readiness before our health care system experiences a surge in cases.”
On Friday, Maine’s congressional delegation was united in calling on the Trump administration to deliver the PPE needed to fight the virus in Maine.
“The severe shortage of PPE and other medical equipment endangers health workers, reduces testing capacity, dampens service delivery, and weakens our overall coronavirus response across the United States,” Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Angus King, Rep. Chellie Pingree and Rep. Jared Golden said in a joint March 20 letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “Now more than ever, we need confidence that resources from the SNS are available to states and that the Administration is working collaboratively with health care providers, businesses, and state leadership to identify available supplies — both in the federal stockpile and across the private sector.”
Policymakers should not get caught up in pointing fingers about what has already happened, and must be making decisions with an understanding of how the outbreak could evolve weeks and months down the road — not just what it looks like right now. That means recognizing the existing PPE shortages, and realizing that without stronger and clearer action from the federal government, things could get exponentially worse.
The U.S. is asking doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to care for Americans with coronavirus. They are the most important resource the U.S. has in this fight. It’s not too much to ask our leaders to put politics, egos and ideology aside and focus on ways to make sure health care workers have the protective equipment they need to defeat the invisible coronavirus enemy.