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PPE Shortage Exacerbated By New Outbreaks

A facemask created by a 3D printer at N.C. State University.
N.C. State University

Amid a national shortage of personal protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic, UNC experts say health care systems may have to mitigate the problem by re-using PPE or producing supply from available materials.

Some efforts are already underway in the Triangle. Last month, Duke Health started sanitizing N-95 masks for re-use using vaporized hydrogen peroxide.

Duke Health, UNC Health and NC State University are all using 3-D printers to produce face shields for health care workers at their hospitals. UNC Chapel Hill Professor Vinayak Deshpande says these measures are not sustainable, but a good stop-gap.

"But these are definitely measures that are needed, that fills in the gap that we have right now in PPE but obviously in the long-term we'll need to do much more than these measures that we have," he said.

Deshpande says long term solutions for the PPE shortage include increasing domestic production capacity and creating better information systems to track the supply.

But the need across the state is still rapidly growing, in part because the number of nursing homes across North Carolina reporting clusters of COVID-19 cases is continuing to rise. The state listed ongoing outbreaks at 30 facilities in the latest daily count.

At a briefing Tuesday afternoon, Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said the state is distributing personal protective equipment to some facilities.

"We pushed out supplies of masks, bleach, hand sanitizers, gloves and disinfectant yesterday to hospitals, licensed care homes, and first responders," he said.

There are shortages of many of those supplies. Sprayberry said the state is pushing out what's available to places with the most need.

Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order Friday calling for the universal use of masks for nursing home staff.

Celeste Gracia covers the environment for WUNC. She has been at the station since September 2019 and started off as morning producer.
Cole del Charco is an audio producer and writer based in Durham. He's made stories for public radio's All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Marketplace. Before joining Due South, he spent time as a freelance journalist, an education and daily news reporter for WUNC, and a podcast producer for WFAE in Charlotte.
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