Medical photo

Hospital workers in Personal Protective Equipment collect samples for coronavirus testing at a drive-up faciltiy in the parking lot at Norwalk Hospital Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Norwalk, Conn. Testing is by appointment only with a doctors referral.

Some Connecticut hospitals are at risk of running out of personal protective equipment, like masks and gloves, in a matter of days, according to the state’s Congressional delegation.

As the coronavirus spreads across the state, the seven lawmakers sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, urging it to send more personal protective equipment from the National Strategic Stockpile to Connecticut. The state has requested 250,000 each of N95 respirator face masks, surgical masks, surgical gowns, non-sterile gloves and disposable face shields to protect hospital workers.

“We understand that there is high demand at this moment for PPE; however, some of Connecticut’s hospitals are only days away from running out of PPE, which would be nothing short of disastrous,” the lawmakers wrote. “A shortage of PPE in our state risks our medical personnel becoming infected, sidelined, and maybe even hospitalized themselves, at precisely the moment our communities are most heavily depending on them.”

The Democrats also said they were notified of possible shortages of thermometers and testing swabs in the state.

During a CNN interview this week, Gov. Ned Lamont said the state is looking everywhere possible for ventilators and personal protection equipment for health care providers.

“This is what my people need, we don’t have enough of it,” Lamont said.

Av Harris, a spokesman for the state Department of Health, said Connecticut is facing an overall shortage of equipment for health workers, including swabs, protective equipment and chemical reagents that process the tests.

 

“We are very concerned about supply shortages,” said John Cappiello, a spokesman for Bridgeport Hospital. “We can’t predict the influx of patients.”

Around the nation, medical supplies, like masks, swabs, gowns and ventilators, are in short supply as confirmed coronavirus cases climb over 10,400 in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This week, President Donald Trump signed the Defense Production Act, a law that gives him the power to direct civilian businesses to help meet orders for products necessary for the national defense. Congress has also appropriated money to help the government buy more of these supplies and distribute them.

It’s unclear if manufacturers will be able to keep up with the spiking demand. Companies like Honeywell and 3M have increased mask production, Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday. 3M is now expected to make about 35 million masks a month.

Recent legislation also waived liability rules so health care workers can now use masks intended for construction purposes in this time of shortage. The administration has urged construction companies to donate their masks to local hospitals.

Tom Nowicki, an emergency physician at Hartford Hospital, said his hospital is trying ensure they have enough equipment to help sick patients.

“We are in reasonably good shape and are working to make sure we have adequate supplies,” Norwicki said. “We have been proactive to make sure we have those supplies. It’s hard to say how quick this will hit.”

In the coming days and weeks, testing of patients with symptoms is expected to ramp up dramatically, as more test kits become available. But shortages of items like swabs and masks could place limits on testing.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, said local health directors told him that supply shortages are impacting testing for the virus.

“They tell me ‘We don’t have what we need to do it,’” Blumenthal said. “Authorizing local testing makes a difference if the equipment is there to do it reliably and the training.”

After more testing, treatment will become the primary concern and ventilators could play a major role in more severe cases.

Speaking during a televised press conference Thursday, New York Gov. Andrew Coumo said his state has 5,000 ventilators but expects to need at least 30,000 of the devices.

“This is a national problem,” Coumo said. “Every state is shopping for ventilators.”

Officials are also concerned that as patients require hospital care there could also be a shortage of beds. The state has 8,540 hospital beds, of which 63 percent are occupied on a typical day.

New York and other states are looking at converting hotel rooms into temporary beds if needed or using convention center space.

emilie.munson@hearstdc.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson