UCSD Health Workers Voice Concerns Over Coronavirus Protective Equipment

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Employees at UC San Diego Health voiced concerns over not being given the equipment they need to keep them safe as they treat patients with COVID-19.

“We are in close contact with patients at all times, so it is absolutely essential that we have the highest level of personal protective equipment,” said Michael Kennedy, a UC San Diego Health nurse and a CA Nurses Association Representative.

Usually, nurses are given N95 respirators to treat patients with COVID-19 as it’s designed to filter out at least 95% of airborne particles.

The virus is thought to spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It’s mainly from person-to-person, according to the CDC.

Kennedy says up until a few days ago UC San Diego Health and other area hospitals stopped using N95 masks.

On March 10, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) changed the guidelines for healthcare workers who treat patients with COVID-19. The changes are that workers are now able to use facemasks as an “acceptable alternative when the supply chain of respirators cannot meet the demand.”

But Kennedy states that guideline differs from what the state’s Division of Occupational and Health Safety Administration (CAL/OSHA) recommends.

“The CAL/OSHA standards require an N95 respirator to be worn at all times, we expect UC San Diego as a world-class institution to aspire to the highest possible protection for its nurses,” Kennedy said.

In a statement sent to NBC 7, UC San Diego Health said in part:

“As COVID-19 continues to evolve and spread in our community, we are following the WHO and CDC’s latest evidence-based changes to how we care for possible COVID-19 patients.

The availability of N95 respirators is constrained globally. UC San Diego Health’s supply chain managers are monitoring the daily use of supplies and took early action to secure a supply of N95 respirators. UC San Diego Health, and all responsible health care systems, are following strategies provided by the CDC for optimizing stocks of N95 respirators. These include regular reminders to staff to conserve N95 respirators through best practices, such as using them only when they are required; distributing respirators daily to teams caring for patients under airborne precautions; and implementing practices that allow for extended use or limited reuse of N95 respirators for non-COVID-19 cases."

On Saturday, UC San Diego Health announced two health workers tested positive for the virus. They stressed the workers did not contract the virus at the hospital and they did not have any interaction with patients being treated for COVID-19.

“We are concerned that UCSD and other area hospitals are not prepared for the coming outbreak. This pandemic is just beginning,” Kennedy said.

Nurses at UC San Diego Health said they will be reporting respirator violations to the state.

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