OLYMPIA — Urgently needed protective gear to guard health care workers against the coronavirus is so sparse that emergency-response officials can only ship orders to Washington’s highest-need areas.
But the need for that equipment around the state is so great, Washington officials said Thursday afternoon, that even high-priority health care workers are not getting everything they requested.
The state has provided some gear to the 10 counties with the most COVID-19 cases, as well as to some tribal governments, according to Jerrod Davis, an assistant secretary for the Department of Health (DOH).
Per DOH guidelines, that equipment is prioritized for health care workers — such as those in hospitals and long-term care facilities — and emergency responders, he said.
“Unfortunately, we’re not able to usually fill the whole entire order,” Davis said in a news conference. “That’s just the reality we have that we’re facing right now.”
The gear being distributed includes equipment purchased by or donated to the state, as well as shipments from the federal government’s Strategic National Stockpile, he said.
State officials have been working to find and acquire protective equipment like gloves, gowns, thermometers, hand sanitizer and N95 and other masks, to keep health care workers safe from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.
Linda Kent, spokeswoman for the state Department of Enterprise Services, which is working alongside DOH to find supplies, said the state still badly needs hand sanitizer and medical gowns.
“And we really need more testing kits,” said Kent, whose agency is helping track down and acquire medical supplies.
The state is primarily interested in buying or receiving donations of bulk orders of supplies, Kent said. People with smaller donations should reach out to local emergency operations centers in their area.
The state this week has been able to acquire 500 ventilators, 1,200 gowns, 500,000 N95 masks and 130,000 surgical masks, according to Kent.
“These are things we’ve gotten in the door and have started distributing,” she said.
Washington officials also have commitments to receive 13,000 thermometers, at least 2.4 million more N95 masks, 300 ventilators, 2,500 disposable stethoscopes and other gear, she said.
Those items will likely stream into the state in installments in the coming days and weeks, she added.
Some large corporations have been donating. Kent said that Apple has committed to giving masks and Microsoft is providing medical caps, gowns, goggles and other gear. Meanwhile, Costco and Home Depot have also donated N95 masks to the state’s effort, she added.
When asked Thursday, Davis and Kent declined to break down how much personal-protective equipment is coming from the federal government’s Strategic National Stockpile, compared to how much gear is being acquired through other channels.
That information should be more readily available soon, Kent said later on Thursday.
While the urgent need for protective gear is expected to continue for some time, Davis said officials believe they can handle the rising numbers of people with coronavirus-like symptoms streaming into hospitals.
“We’re seeing those numbers, and they’re concerning,” he said. “But … we think that we’re going to be able to handle it with all the planning that we’re doing.”