Do RI healthcare workers have enough PPE? A local doctor weighs in

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ During her daily coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, Gov. Gina Raimondo said she is working to secure additional personal protective equipment, or PPE, for healthcare workers in Rhode Island.

“We do not have enough masks, respirators, and goggles to meet our needs,” Raimondo said.

Dr. Selim Suner, the director of disaster medicine and emergency preparedness at Rhode Island Hospital, said he’s concerned those working on the frontlines of the pandemic will run out of the equipment they need to keep themselves safe.

“Unless we have supply chains that start to bring masks into the state, we will run out as time goes on,” Dr. Suner said. 

He said right now, healthcare workers assume every patient who enters the emergency room at Rhode Island Hospital has COVID-19 — meaning providers have to be in personal protective equipment at all times.

“We’re all wearing eye protection and face masks throughout the day,” Suner said. “When we go in to see a patient, we also put on a gown and gloves.”

Suner said Lifespan, the hospital’s parent company, had been preparing for an outbreak of the virus for months. But as COVID-19 cases continue to climb, Suner said so does the amount of PPE being used by healthcare workers.

“We’ve been conserving PPE,” Suner said. “We’ve instituted many procedures for reuse, to extended use. Now we’re sterilizing PPE and reusing them as well.”

Suner said right now, they’re doing the best they can.

“In my subconscious, I’m sure I am afraid,” he said. “But, there hasn’t really been time to express that fear. We’re going to get through this.”

As for how people should protect themselves, Dr. Suner said it’s a good idea for someone to wear a mask in public if they’re sneezing or coughing — not just to protect themselves, but to also protect everyone else around them. 

When it comes to wearing gloves, Dr. Suner said they may give someone a false sense of security. He said it’s not the virus on the hand that causes infection, rather it’s the contamination that occurs when our hands touch our mouth or eyes. 

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