A hospital nurse in Michigan says she and her colleagues have discussed bringing in bleach to make their own disinfectant wipes. A pregnant nurse in Ohio says she has no choice but to tend to critically ill patients without a specialized N95 mask. And a health care worker in Georgia has resorted to scouring local hardware stores in an effort to secure the protective masks.
These are just some of the stories told to NBC News by more than 250 health care providers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, including many who work in major hospitals.
The accounts were solicited through an NBC News survey, pushed out on social media, about access to personal protective equipment (PPE), a broad term for the gear, such as masks, glasses, gowns and respirators, donned by health care workers to protect against the transmission of germs.
Nearly all who responded said there were shortages of PPE in the hospitals, outpatient clinics and offices where they worked.
Many reported being forced to ration or reuse supplies, including surgical and N95 masks, for fear of running out. Many also said they were facing shortages of basic sanitary supplies, including hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.
The survey responses reveal the scope of the shortages, as many medical professionals pleaded for the government to step up delivery of supplies.
“We have no proper PPE,” wrote one survey respondent, who works in a hospital in New York City. “We are being told to come to work even if you had a COVID exposure...This system is doomed for failure without immediate help from the military. We need PPE, vents, staffing, more hospital beds, more tests.”
In the meantime, health care systems and staff are being forced to improvise.
One doctor, who works at a rural health clinic in Virginia, said that clinics are increasingly being asked to fill the gap and send their PPE supplies to hospitals, where the need is greater.
But that, of course, leaves clinics — and the patients they serve — exposed.
“There simply isn’t enough stock,” said the doctor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We have no N-95s or gowns. We have limited surgical masks.”
“This is a nationwide problem, even on the private side,” he added. “No clinic in this country, or hospital for that matter, is going to have enough equipment.”
Dr. Nivedita Lakhera, a doctor in San Jose, California, said her hospital is working hard to get N95 masks for all doctors but they are in short supply. She shared messages with NBC News from doctors she knows who are worried about their own mortality.
“The doctors are talking about making living wills and what will happen when we are faced with this,” she said. “All of us are wondering which one of us will die.”