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Many D-FW hospital workers forced to re-use masks to treat COVID-19 patients

Some health care workers say they're having to buy their own personal protective equipment.
Credit: WFAA

While hospitals across North Texas are working to secure personal protective equipment during the worldwide shortage, many hospitals are asking their doctors and nurses to re-use their masks.

One health care provider, who asked WFAA not identify her or her hospital, tells us she is having to buy her own personal protective equipment (PPE).

Here's how North Texas hospitals are coping with the mask shortage.

UT Southwestern

On Friday, UT Southwestern implemented new measures to help with the shortage of PPE.

An e-mail sent to employees of UT Southwestern says a surgical mask will be provided each day to all hospital and ambulatory clinicians and staff and then collected at the end of the day for sterilization and reuse.

"The masks will be sterilized with aerosolized hydrogen peroxide, via a process recommended by the CDC," John Warner, Executive Vice President for Health System Affairs at UT Southwestern said in an e-mail to the UT Southwestern community.

Texas Health Resources

"We are managing our supplies carefully, but the safety of our patients and caregivers is our paramount concern. In some instances front line staff can re-use face masks, such as in common areas but not when treating patients," said Texas Health Resources spokesperson Stephen O'Brien.

O'Brien says Texas Health believes they have enough supplies so they are not currently sterilizing and reusing N95 masks.

JPS

John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth is giving employees one mask per week and asking that they store the mask in a paper bag between shifts. 

 

Parkland Hospital  

Parkland tells WFAA that officials there are in the final phase of developing a system for collecting used masks from health care providers and sanitizing the masks so that they can be redistributed and reused. 

In the meantime, a Parkland spokesperson says they are following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to extend the life of masks.

 

Medical City Dallas

Officials at Medical City say they have implemented steps recommended by the CDC to conserve PPE, including the reusing and reprocessing of PPE where appropriate.

While all staff and providers in all patient care areas are required to wear masks, Medical City officials say they are allowing for the use of both N95 masks as well as standard facemasks.

"Since COVID-19 is spread by droplets, in most instances standard face masks offer adequate protection," says Medical City's PPE protocol.

Methodist Health System

Methodist spokesperson Ryan Owens issued the following statement to WFAA:

“The safety of our patients and staff is a top priority. Methodist Health System follows the procedures outlined by the CDC, as well as local, state and federal healthcare authorities. This includes protocols for masks and other forms of PPE. In accordance with the procedures adopted by those authorities, Methodist has implemented policies to provide masks to caregivers as needed.”

CDC recommendations on reusing masks

The CDC recommends hospitals implement the limited re-use of facemasks. Meaning, health care providers can use the same facemask for multiple encounters with different patients but must remove it between patient visits. When re-using facemasks, the CDC has issued the following guidelines:

  • The facemask should be removed and discarded if soiled, damaged, or hard to breathe through.
  • Not all facemasks can be re-used.
  • Facemasks that fasten to the provider via ties may not be able to be undone without tearing and should be considered only for extended use, rather than re-use.
  • Facemasks with elastic ear hooks may be more suitable for re-use.
  • Facemasks should be carefully folded so that the outer surface is held inward and against itself to reduce contact with the outer surface during storage. The folded mask can be stored between uses in a clean sealable paper bag or breathable container.

CDC recommendations on homemade masks

Hospitals such as Parkland, UT Southwestern and Texas Health tell WFAA they are not permitting their providers to use homemade masks, such as bandanas and scarfs for the care of patients with COVID-19.

The CDC says homemade masks should only be used "as a last resort" because they are not considered PPE. 

Officials with the CDC say it's unknown whether homemade masks can protect health care workers. 

"Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front and sides of the face," according to the CDC.