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Please Don’t Hoard N95 Masks! Hospitals Need Them Desperately.

by | Mar 21, 2020

This is a note just posted by my sister, a nurse at a hospital in Austin:

I know everyone has heard the healthcare workers cry for getting safe PPE. But I don’t think I’ve really read anything that explains exactly why.

My last shift at the hospital, I was asked to reuse my N95 mask and store it in a paper bag. As many of you have heard, this is absolutely unheard of before now. The CDC is saying health care workers can use bandannas, and many people are sewing masks. (Which is awesome all you volunteers looking to help. Thank you!)

I’m sure people who have their own N95 masks think that they need them if health care workers need them, especially if their immune system is depressed. But here is the MAJOR difference. If you have to go out in public, a simple mask will protect in ordinary day to day contact. If the person next to you coughs, for example.

But what I did on my last shift is this:

A child was in respiratory failure. This meant if we didn’t intervene immediately, that child would die. Absolutely, no question, be dead without immediate medical intervention or a miracle or both. So, just like any other typical day in the ER the team rushed to save this child’s life. Never for one second during any epidemic/pandemic/media scare have I EVER seen even one of my teammates hesitate to rush to a child’s rescue. This time was no different. We treated the child the same as we always did. EXCEPT…

We are daily around all kids of viruses. We all have rock-star immune systems because of it. However, we know there is a novel virus out there that our immune systems aren’t prepared for. So we don full PPE, we minimize the number of staff in the room. Which means all of us in there are doing multiple roles. I was initially the only nurse in the room. The doctor was helping hold the patient still for his IV. She was laying across half on the bed. The respiratory therapist was working with the equipment to help the little one’s breathing. This is a kid, so he would pull off the mask and cough all over her. My face was inches away as we worked to start the IV, give IV fluids, give medications. We stayed immediately at the bedside for an HOUR while we worked to stabilize this child, while the machine helping him breath aerosolized the particulates into the air.

I have no idea if this patient had COVID19. But what if? What if we did all of this without proper PPE? We did have PPE that day. But we might not even a week or two down the road.

Then what?

It isn’t just about my safety. I will gladly give my life for any of my patients. It isn’t even about the safety of my family when I come home. (Even though I have a medically fragile child on home oxygen. )

It’s about EVERYONE’S safety. If the nurses and doctors are sick who is caring for the patients? If our hospital systems are in danger of being overwhelmed, how on earth are we going to manage if large numbers of health care workers are among the patients?

What if it is you, your child, your loved one who needs me?

So PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE if you have unused N95 masks, even if you are medically fragile, turn them in to your local hospital. You can use the cloth masks. They will help you. But I need more. My coworkers need more.

For the sake of everyone in the Austin area. For the sake of everyone everywhere.

About Scott Horton

Scott Horton is director of the Libertarian Institute, editorial director of Antiwar.com, host of Antiwar Radio on Pacifica, 90.7 FM KPFK in Los Angeles, California and podcasts the Scott Horton Show from ScottHorton.org. He's the author of the 2021 book Enough Already: Time to End the War on Terrorism, the 2017 book, Fool's Errand:Time to End the War in Afghanistan, editor of the 2019 book The Great Ron Paul: The Scott Horton Show Interviews 2004–2019 and the 2022 book Hotter Than The Sun: Time to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. He’s conducted more than 5,800 interviews since 2003. Scott lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, Larisa Alexandrovna Horton.

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