We are no more prepared to deal with the rapid increases in coronavirus patients needing hospitalization in the United States than in China. If doctors, nurses and first responders are faced with coming to work without such equipment as respirators, gloves, eye protection and disposable suits, will they?
If we are to have any real impact on this emerging crisis, we must safeguard the health-care workers who put their lives on the line treating patients. It is no longer useful to debate how long and far this disease will spread. Public-health officials should stop trying to convince the public and political leaders we can contain this virus to China. One of the greatest hazards to the public in any crisis is misinformation from official sources.
Instead, we should build our next line of defense. As we experience one of the worst influenza seasons in years, the increased need for protective equipment has virtually exhausted supplies on hand at health-care facilities, which often don’t have the financial resources to store large inventories. Orders over the past several weeks of N95 respirators — the tight-fitting face masks necessary for protection against the virus — would take many years of manufacturing capacity to fulfill. World Health Organization officials report global demand for this kind equipment up to 100 times higher than normal and prices up to 20 times higher than just weeks ago.
We must immediately prioritize the use of those resources to health-care workers and first responders on a worldwide basis. Governments must support private-sector manufacturers in providing N95s and other equipment to front-line health-care providers and other essential workers. In terms of minimizing illness and death, this will be more important than any border closing, airport screening or quarantine. And it is no less than our front-line warriors deserve.
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