Coronavirus pandemic straining medical supplies, forcing nurses to reuse masks with "no protection"

Coronavirus may spur medical supply shortage
Coronavirus may spur medical supply shortage 02:47

As hospitals across the U.S. brace for a surge in patients, health care workers say the protective measures taken over the next few weeks will be critical, according to CBS News' Carter Evans. Some government leaders worry the coronavirus pandemic could stretch hospitals to their breaking point while medical equipment shortages threaten to put doctors, nurses and patients at risk.

"Nurses are being asked to actually reuse masks, including surgical masks, which provide no protection," Executive Director of National Nurses United Bonnie Castillo said.

She told CBS News that one of the group's main concerns is a shortage of N-95 masks, which filter out 95% of airborne particles. Last week, the CDC posted new guidelines saying health care workers could use looser-fitting surgical masks as "an acceptable alternative."

Castillo predicted that health care workers will continue to get sick as they treat coronavirus patients.

"And as more get sick and have exposure, we get sidelined, and then who's there to take care of the patients?" she asked.

Doctor on coronavirus medical shortage 02:40

The CEO of Direct Relief, a non-profit organization which helps equip doctors and nurses, said they could "run out of them today" if they responded to every N-95 mask order they had pending. He said they had been contacted by at least 150 community health centers lacking supplies, but after donating nearly a million masks to China earlier in the year, they have less than 500,000 left in stock.

According to the Association of Public Health Labs, some of the chemical ingredients used in coronavirus tests are also in short supply. Diagnostics testing giant Qiagen, one of the companies responsible for making them, said they increased production to seven days a week to keep up with demand.

"It's spreading much quicker than what we have seen before," Qiagen CEO Thierry Bernard said. "So the surge of demand everywhere in the world, and specifically in the U.S., is quite significant."

The American Red Cross announced a severe blood shortage, with 2,700 blood drives canceled so far due to concerns over public gatherings.

Even New York Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed concern over hospitals' lack of beds should the pandemic get much worse.

"You have people on gurneys, in hallways. That is what is going to happen now if we do nothing," he warned.