State to health care providers: Conserve, reuse masks, gowns

A record number of Iowans were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Oct. 20, 2020. (Photo by South Agency/Getty Images)

Iowa health-care providers will have to implement extended use of face masks and other conservation measures for personal protective equipment in response to coronavirus-related shortages, the Iowa Department Public Health said Friday.

The department sent out new standards Friday for the use and reuse of face masks, shields, gowns and other personal protective equipment (PPE). Gov. Kim Reynolds’ order suspending non-emergency or elective medical and dental procedures remains in effect.

“Unfortunately, we’re in a position where like many states and countries across the globe, we are preparing for a time when we might not have enough of these supplies,” Sarah Reisetter, deputy director of Iowa Department of Public Health, said at the governor’s daily news conference.

Reisetter said the order did not signal a worsening of Iowa’s COVID-19 rate or any increased difficulty in obtaining PPE supplies.  Iowa officials have said they expect the state’s COVID-19 cases to peak by the end of April.

“We are doing everything we can as a state to procure additional PPE so that we can continue to send those supplies out to people. We understand that people are scared. And so we continue to do everything we can to find supply wherever we can. And we will continue to distribute that to the areas of highest need,” Reisetter said.

Reynolds said Iowa has received some PPE that it ordered. “But as we continue to see those pushed back, you know, we’ve had to reach within the state to see what else we can do to help to provide our health care workers and those first responders what they need,” she said.

Reynolds said the Iowa Department of Corrections has produced 2,800 gowns to date and will double its production rate to 1,000 per day.  More businesses are producing face shields which can be used with homemade masks being donated by volunteers, she said. The state is continuing to encourage volunteers to sew and donate face masks.

Health care workers have already been expressing alarm at the lack of PPE and the orders to reuse equipment.

Mary Horsman, a respiratory therapist in Des Moines, said having to use or reuse expired PPE is “very concerning.”

“With having to reuse now either the N95 (masks) or the gowns or even the gloves that they’re asking us to reuse, health care workers or anybody who requires PPE are at a really high risk,” she said.

She noted that more than 20 percent of COVID-19 cases in Iowa are health-care workers. “With this reusing of PPE, I expect that to go up quite a bit.”

State Sen. Claire Celsi, D-Des Moines, said one of her relatives who is a nurse was afraid to go to work due to a lack of PPE. She quit her job at a Dallas County health system last week “because of a total lack of regard for employee safety in that situation” and went to work for another health-care system that had more PPE available.

“She feels a little bit safer there,” Celsi said.

Horsman and Celsi spoke during a news conference sponsored by Progress Iowa and Protect Our Care, which are promoting the reopening of enrollment for the Affordable Care Act.

Iowa reported 118 new positive cases of COVID-19 Friday, for a total of 1,388 positive cases to date.

Two more people with COVID-19 have died, for a total of 31 deaths to date. Both were Linn County residents, one between 61-80 years old and one over age 81.  A total of 119 people with COVID-19 were in hospitals on Friday.

More information about COVID-19 testing and monitoring in Iowa is available on the Iowa Department of Public Health’s website. People with questions about COVID-19 can call the state’s hotline at 2-1-1 or 1-800-244-7431.c