SPOKANE, Wash. — As nurses and other healthcare workers in Spokane express concerns over shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington state leaders say the need for these items isn't going to end any time soon. 

Jerrod Davis, Assistant Secretary for Disease Control and Health Statistics at the state Department of Health, said in a teleconference on Thursday that public health officials are prioritizing PPE for those who need it most – including long-term care facilities, hospitals, first responders and healthcare workers. But the health department is unable to fill all the needs in this top tier category alone.

“Unfortunately, whatever we bring in to our system, is not enough to satisfy the needs in our community,” Davis said.

Davis said the health department has been able to provide PPE to the top 10 counties in the state with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, which includes Spokane County. But these are only partial orders.

Native American tribes have also requested PPE and other supplies, and the state is partially filling orders for these communities.

To combat the shortage, the state Department of Enterprise Services and health department are looking beyond the usual suppliers, and reaching out to third-parties who can sell some or all of their supplies or accepting donations.

The national stockpile of emergency medical supplies is also chipping in to help. 

The Department of Enterprise Services handles bulk donations, while those offering smaller donations are asked to work with local emergency operations divisions, according to public affairs director Linda Kent.

“This is going to be a long haul and the needs for PPE are going to be ongoing,” Kent added.

Spokane County opened a site on Thursday where people can donate hand-sewn masks during the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

The masks will be mostly provided to those who are ill to prevent the spread of respiratory droplets, which is the primary transmission source for COVID-19, according to Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz.

Local healthcare providers aren't accepting donations of homemade masks because the masks can't be guaranteed to be sterile. Homemade masks also don't provide the same level of protection as manufactured N95 masks, according to Lutz.

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The state has already received 500 ventilators, 1,200 gowns, 500,000 N-95 masks and 130,000 surgical masks, Kent said. 

Now, leaders are working to distribute those items.

Kent added that there are 2.4 million N95 masks on the way to the state, with another anticipated order of more than 2 million. The state is also expecting an order of 300 ventilators and hundreds of thermometers, among other items.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, surgical masks are not designed for use as particulate respirators and do not provide as much respiratory protection as an N95 respirator.

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Something the state is also in dire need of right now? COVID-19 test kits, Kent said. She added that state leaders are also experiencing difficulties in finding disposable gowns and hand sanitizer.

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