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Coronavirus In Seattle
caption: Dental assistant Anita Laigo models a mask she made that's meant to replace an N95 in an emergency situation. Inside is part of an air conditioner filter from Home Depot.
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Dental assistant Anita Laigo models a mask she made that's meant to replace an N95 in an emergency situation. Inside is part of an air conditioner filter from Home Depot.
Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Linda Fukuda.

'We’re going to run out of masks.' Health workers push back on restarting elective surgeries

Supplies of personal protective equipment are still too tenuous for some medical professionals to support a complete reopening of Washington state's health care system.

This week, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee said hospitals may be allowed to restart elective surgeries soon.

But that has some people worried.

The Washington State Nurses Association is calling for health care workers to receive more gear, such as masks, gowns, and gloves, before elective procedures restart.

The majority of the union’s nurses are working without sufficient protective wear, according to the union’s analysis. That includes having to wear disposable items for a long time, caring for multiple patients and cleaning them in between — against manufacturers’ recommendations.

“This cannot become the new normal,” Sally Watkins, the association's executive director, said in an emailed statement.

The Washington State Hospital Association is in talks with their members, the state Department of Health, and the governor’s office about the right conditions for restarting non-urgent procedures, spokesperson Beth Zborowski said.

“We don’t believe this should be a quick return to pre-COVID operations, but interim steps should be taken,” she said in an email. “We have specifically asked the state for guidelines to provide clarifications to the governor’s order, and not necessarily remove the restrictions.”

In Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood, Dr. Linda Fukuda, a dentist, is concerned.

“When we start opening up, we’re going to run out of masks,” she said.

Suppliers are sending limited numbers of surgical masks to her office. But Fukuda said she wants her staff to be better protected against potentially contagious patients as they perform certain procedures like drilling and cleaning that involve spraying water and air.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to get the N95s soon, so that’s why we’re trying to make our own,” Fukuda said.

Now they’re constructing cloth masks with a removable, reusable filter.

caption: A mask made at Dr. Linda Fukuda Family Dentistry that is intended to replace an N-95 respirator in emergency situations. Inside is part of an air conditioner filter from Home Depot.
Enlarge Icon
A mask made at Dr. Linda Fukuda Family Dentistry that is intended to replace an N-95 respirator in emergency situations. Inside is part of an air conditioner filter from Home Depot.
Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Linda Fukuda