Nurses share photos of the great coronavirus equipment shortage, showing empty closets, torn face masks, and paper bags where they're keeping gear overnight

mask cna

Anonymous source to Business Insider

A hospital in Southern California is giving nurses just one mask per shift, which goes against typical safety protocols.

  • Nurses have shared photos that depict the mask and equipment shortage that hospitals across the country are facing.
  • Images both posted on social media and shared with Business Insider show nurses storing disposable masks in paper and plastic bags for use across multiple days and using alcohol swabs to sanitize phones. 
  • Nurses worry they are endangering themselves and other patients without proper protective equipment. "The scariest thing for us who work at the bedside is to end up making a choice between who lives and who dies bc we don't have enough staffing and equipment," one nurse said.
  • If you are a nurse working during the COVID-19 outbreak, email aakhtar@businessinsider.com.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

One nurse in Oklahoma City attempted to bring her own protective gear to work amid the ongoing shortage of equipment like masks and gloves.

The rapidly spreading novel coronavirus, a respiratory virus that infected 51,000 Americans as of March 24, has flooded US hospitals with new patients. Nurses and other healthcare workers told Business Insider they lack enough masks and gloves to account for the influx.

The Oklahoma City nurse, who requested anonymity for fear of losing her job, said she ended up unable to wear her own personal masks and gloves, as doing so violated the hospital's policies.

She shared a photo of the hospital's dwindling supply of protective gear:

nurse PPE shortage

Anonymous source of Business Insider

An anonymous nurse from Oklahoma City shared an almost empty mask and glove cabinet at her hospital.

Nurses across the country shared photos of their hospital or health system's lack of protective equipment and cleaning supplies amid the novel coronavirus outbreak. Images show hospital nurses needing to reuse disposable masks for entire shifts or multiple days; storing equipment in paper and plastic bags for use across multiple days; using alcohol swabs to sanitize phones; and wearing torn paper masks. 

Nurses said the lack of protective equipment results from a lack of preparation on the part of health systems, as well as little support from federal and state governments with providing more supplies.

mask photo description

An anonymous source of Business Insider

A nurse in Wisconsin shared a photo of what her mask looked like after one shift.

Many nurses spoke to Business Insider under the condition of anonymity, for fear of losing their jobs. Business Insider confirmed their identities and verified their nursing credentials before publishing this article. 

Nurses around the country are asking for more protective equipment, like masks, gloves, and gowns. The US needs 270 million more particle-resistant masks than it currently has.

On March 10, the National Nurses United union called on the White House and hospital systems to ensure that nurses have enough protective equipment. A union survey found only 30% of nurses reported having enough equipment to deal with the outbreak.

In late February, US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said the US needs 270 million airborne particle-resistant N95 masks for healthcare workers. Hospitals in Los Angeles and Seattle, desperate for equipment, have asked seamstresses to volunteer making fabric masks for healthcare workers.

Nurses are being asked to reuse disposable masks, sometimes multiple times a week. Hospital administrators have told nurses to store disposable masks in paper bags and plastic bags.

Multiple nurses confirmed that hospitals have been asking nurses to use just one mask per shift due to the shortage.

John Pearson, an ER nurse at Alameda Hospital in California, said his managers had told nurses to store disposable masks in paper bags to wear them on multiple shifts. Maeleigh Soper, a registered travel nurse in Seattle, said her hospital went through a month's worth of masks and hand sanitizers in three days. She said she suspects patients and families have been stealing medical supplies amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Marie Spaner, a hospital nurse in the Los Angeles area, previously told Business Insider she felt frustrated about her hospital's lack of planning. Her hospital had not changed cleaning or sanitation protocols since the outbreak, nor had it limited visitors.

nurse mask paper bag coronavirus

Courtesy of Hector Torres

Nurses are being asked to reuse disposable masks and place them in paper bags.

"It's frustrating and frightening. If we can't have things implemented properly in the hospital, then it's a danger for us and to the patients," Spaner told Business Insider. "We're just grossly unprepared."

Some nurses said they their hospitals haven't increased cleaning or sanitation of commonly touched surfaces since the coronavirus outbreak.

Pearson, a member of the SEIU 1021 union, shared photos of the lack of cleaning equipment on his Twitter. One photo depicted nurses cleaning phones with alcohol swabs, which should be used to clean injection sites. Other photos showed empty hand-sanitizing stations and broken paper-towel dispensers at different places in the hospital. 

nurse photos coronavirus unprepared

Courtesy of John Pearson

Pearson shared a photo of what nurses are being told: to clean equipment with alcohol swabs in lieu of sanitizing equipment.

Pearson said the equipment shortage at his hospital was "dire." Pearson added that his hospital hasn't trained healthcare workers on what to do if they come across a possible COVID-19 patient, and that he's received all communication regarding the disease through email. 

"The scariest thing for us who work at the bedside is to end up making a choice between who lives and who dies bc we don't have enough staffing and equipment," he said.

Other nurses revealed to Business Insider their hospital had not increased cleaning or sanitizing since the outbreak. The virus spreads when you touch surfaces where the virus is present and then touch your face, according to the CDC.

nurse hospital coronavirus

Courtesy of John Pearson

Pearson shared a photo of empty hand-sanitizing stations at his hospital in Alameda County, California.

Two hospital nurses in Oklahoma, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing their jobs, said they attempted to wipe down crowded waiting rooms to protect families from contracting the virus. Their head of nursing told them to stop, as housekeeping comes through once at night to clean the area, they said.

"We voiced our concerns for how often we should be wiping down the waiting room, and we went out and wiped the remote and newspaper," one of the nurses said. The hospital wasn't "doing anything" to protect the nurses or the patients, the nurse added. 

nurse meme PPE

Anonymous source of Business Insider

A nurse from the Los Angeles area, who wished to remain anonymous, shared a meme that nurses have been posting that depicts the difference in PPE in the US versus China, Iran, and Italy.

Nurses worried that without enough masks, they were running the risk of contracting the disease and spreading it to their families.

The Oklahoma nurses said without proper protective gear, they feared contracting the disease or spreading to their families. One nurse said her husband has lung problems, and she was especially worried about exposing him to the disease.

The other nurse said due to her asthma, she had to make a difficult decision to cut back on work hours. She had been working additional hours to earn extra income because her husband had lost his job due to business closures brought on by the coronavirus.

nurse coronavirus hospital

Anonymous source of Business Insider

Nurses came into their shifts at Reading Hospital in Pennsylvania with messages of support: "not all superheroes wear capes" and "thank you to all hospital staff."

"I love being a nurse, and I feel guilty that I am scared to be out there," the nurse said, "but given that I'm not given the proper protective equipment, I can't run the risk of not being here for my family in the future."

Get the latest coronavirus analysis and research from Business Insider Intelligence on how COVID-19 is impacting businesses.

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