Seattle Nurses Scrounge For Masks To Stay Safe On Pandemic's Front Lines

The first U.S cluster of coronavirus cases began in the Seattle area, and the case count is growing. Now nurses face shortages of protective gear, and confusion and fear about how to stay safe.
Mary Mills, longtime intensive care nurse, feels the response to coronavirus at her Seattle hospital has been haphazard. She worries the growing number of patients will overwhelm the ICUs in the coming days. Source: Will Stone/for NPR

Across Washington's health care system, as the caseload of coronavirus patients grows, masks and other personal protective equipment are in short supply — and nurses are resorting to workarounds to try to stay safe.

Wendy Shaw, a charge nurse for an emergency room in Seattle, says her hospital and others have locked up critical equipment like masks and respirators to ensure they don't run out.

Shaw is the de facto gatekeeper, and is now required to run through a list of questions when anyone comes to get a mask: "What are you using it for? What patient? What's the procedure?"

"I have become a "jailer" in a sense of these masks," she says.

"We now have to learn how to work with less, and

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