NYC cancer hospital faces coronavirus mask shortage: report

COVID-19 has hospital staff rationing gear as cases climb, according to their social media posts

Health care workers at one of the best cancer hospitals in the U.S. are reportedly short on face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic, illustrating a national problem that many are taking to social media using the hashtag #GetMePPE, meaning personal protective equipment.

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Doctors and nurses throughout the United States are sharing about stretching their supplies as they take precautions against catching or spreading the virus.

"Just finished up a busy emergency department critical care shift, and hoping I stay healthy enough to go back for another," Dr. Kelly Wong of Brown Emergency Medicine in Rhode Island wrote on Twitter. "This mask and these safety glasses went into a paper bag with my name on it so that I can reuse them tomorrow on shift... and maybe the next shift... and maybe the next shift #GetMePPE."

The United States had about 6,500 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, as of Wednesday, and 1,708 of those are in New York, where Sloan Kettering is located. Hospitals are scrambling to prepare for an influx of patients as state and federal governments offer piecemeal relief.

The Pentagon said it will provide up to 5 million respirator masks from its strategic reserves to the Department of Health & Human Services, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said during a briefing Tuesday.

A Servpro cleaning worker has her respirator mask sprayed down Thursday, March 12, 2020, as she gets ready for a break from his work cleaning inside the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., near Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Some health care workers are getting creative to stay safe. At Providence health system in Washington state, administrators made face shields from vinyl, elastic and tape and plan to seek out help from a manufacturer to make their own masks next, The Wall Street Journal reported.

There's also concern over how many ICU beds will be needed. Health care analytics firm Array Advisors warns that time is running out for facilities to scale up for the number of patients who may need care because of the virus.

"Even if hospitals were to cancel all elective surgeries, the analysis suggests that there will be no available beds in intensive care units (ICUs) in the U.S. by the end of April, and beds in medical-surgical units will reach full occupancy by mid-May," according to Array's analysis. "If the virus spreads faster than the model projects, or if hospitals do not cancel elective cases, these capacity deadlines may be even closer."

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Hospitals could convert non-ICU beds to "something more than conventional beds, less than ICU" as a possible solution, Michael Abrams of health care consulting firm Numerof & Associates told FOX Business.

But action is needed soon, he said.

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"You can’t come up with all the equipment and monitoring and staff overnight," Abrams said.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City told staff it had a week's worth of masks left on Friday, BuzzFeed News first reported. Five employees and three patients have been diagnosed with coronavirus at the cancer hospital, according to BuzzFeed.

Sign with logo on the facade of the Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer center in Manhattan, New York City, New York, among the top cancer hospitals in the world, September 14, 2017. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

A spokesperson for Sloan Kettering did not confirm BuzzFeed News' report but offered the following statement:

“Memorial Sloan Kettering has sufficient supply of PPE, including masks and other equipment, to ensure the safety and protection of our patients and staff. MSK follows the guidelines for PPE that are established by the CDC. Balancing supply and demand for essential supplies is what our supply chain experts do every day.”

This post has been updated with a response from Sloan Kettering.