DENVER (CBS4) - Dr. Jane Jenab, a Denver-based emergency room physician, warned on Wednesday of area hospitals already rationing vital medical equipment for health care workers. Items like face masks, surgical gowns and gloves, she said, were already part of a "significant shortage" that threatened the health of doctors and nurses and would eventually impact hospital patients.
"We are anticipating a massive surge of patients over the next few weeks," said Jenab. "And we are not prepared."
She was speaking about what is known as Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, for health care workers.
"We are being asked to ration what we have. We are being asked to use masks repeatedly over and over through the day which decreases their effectiveness."
Jenab rotates through various hospitals and says when it comes to PPE gear, "We're running through them quickly due to the risk of contagion at this time."
A nurse at another major Colorado hospital told CBS4 she was being given a single mask for an entire day. She said she would typically use and discard 10 such masks prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. She asked her name not be used for fear or retaliation.
Jenab said a shortage of PPE equipment will impact hospital patients if doctors and nurses get sick and are not able to work.
"We as health care providers, if we get sick and are removed from the workforce due to exposure or actually being sick, what happens to the workforce? We're anticipating an enormous surge of patients and not sure we will have the staff and supplies to take care of what's coming."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week addressed the mask shortage by recommending the use of bandanas, if needed.
"In settings where face masks are not available, (health care providers) might use homemade masks (e.g. bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort," wrote the CDC.
At a news conference Wednesday, Gov. Jared Polis said he had spoken this week to Vice President Mike Pence about the PPE shortage.
"We are doing everything we can to acquire more PPE," said Polis. "We are looking at where else PPE resides in the state."
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said "there is significant worldwide demand" for PPE equipment, "and we're continuing to seek additional resources." The agency noted they are aware that Colorado hospitals "are experiencing limited supplies."
Doctors and nurses have taken to Twitter to air their concerns. Under the hashtags "#GETMEPPE" and "#WENEEDPPE," doctors and nurses have been showing and explaining how they are reusing masks for as long as five days, even after being exposed to COVID-19.
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump said he would invoke the 1950 Defense Production Act, which would allow the government to push for faster production of much-needed medical supplies and gives the government priority in obtaining those supplies.
"We need to push production now, not tomorrow. Now, now, now," exclaimed Jenab. "As if we were in wartime, we need to convert factories that have been producing other goods into producing masks, gloves and gowns."
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