As of Thursday, 23 employees at the 4,000-employee VA hospital, had tested positive, according to an update the hospital director emailed to employees. Another 45 employees are home awaiting test results. The hospital declined to say how many of the employees who are positive or are awaiting results are nurses, or name which parts of the hospital they work in.
Three VA nurses said they were given N95 respirators for several days early in the crisis in March, but after that they were given surgical masks, which provide less protection from the coronavirus. Another nurse reported wearing only a surgical mask the entire time caring for coronavirus patients. The nurses, who work in a unit that treats COVID-19 positive patients or patients awaiting test results who are suspected to be positive, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to news media and their job security could be at risk if they spoke publicly.
The hospital had 73 confirmed coronavirus cases among patients as of Friday, and four inpatient deaths. "Currently every health care system is taking steps to conserve PPE. VA is no different," Hodge wrote in a series of responses by email to questions. Hodge also said that the hospital is issuing surgical masks to all staff who work in non-COVID-19 units. “Those staff are provided one surgical mask weekly to assist in protecting high-risk patients who are asymptomatic,” he wrote. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
I’m not surprised by the numbers. Richmond, itself, is a virus hot spot although that is mostly due to several deadly assisted living/nursing home outbreaks. What shocks me is the PPE situation. The fact that nurses have to treat known Covid-19 patients with hospital masks rather than the N95 respirators is only moderately better than third world conditions in my view. Hospital masks offer the wearer no protection against the aerosolized virus. If the patients were wearing those masks, it would be more helpful than the nurses wearing them.
Here’s a tip. If you can still smell odors like onions or bacon while wearing the mask, the aerosolized virus can get into your lungs. Hospital masks and other improvised masks protect those around the wearer, not the mask wearer. The concept behind the universal wearing of such masks is mutual protection. For any of you who spent time in the infantry, it’s the same concept behind the DePuy fighting positions where you are not defending yourself. You are forming interlocking fields of fire to protect your comrades to the left and right of you. Protecting those around you actually provides the best protection for all of you. We wear masks in grocery stores and other such places to protect the entire community, not just our own sorry asses.
But back to the situation at McGuire. In the early days of the pandemic in America, the hospital instituted a screening program at the hospital entrances consisting of temperature and health interview. We were told to expect delays and to be given a mask for wear in the hospital. Not long after that, we were called to reschedule our appointments to May or beyond. By mid-April, this was the COVID-19 testing situation.
Since the number of COVID-19 tests are limited nationwide, there is no COVID-19 testing capability at our CBOC locations. Please call your provider to determine whether you would be a candidate for testing. If so, then you may proceed to the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia where Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m., a Drive-Thru Clinic is available for screening and testing (if you need it); you will be triaged according to your symptoms. Also, Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., you may be directed to be seen in the medical center’s High Consequence Infections (HCI) Clinic. Last, depending on your symptoms, you may go to the hospital’s Emergency Department or to an Urgent Care Center or Emergency Department in your area.
McGuire seems to have had all its ducks in a row. It’s what I expect. This VA medical center is well run. The professionalism, pride and morale among the staff is astoundingly high. It shows among us broke down old vets who show up for care. We are proud of McGuire. That this fine facility is now forced to ration out PPE to its staff is a travesty. The VA dropped the ball. The federal government dropped the ball… for several administrations. PPE should have been stockpiled at all levels and those stockpiles should have been replenished by a push logistics system.
That’s the long term screw up. In the more immediate term, the federal government should have been acquiring that PPE and forcing industry to massively produce supplies back in January. Trump should have invoked and used the Defense Production Act robustly in January rather than waiting until March and April to weakly wield that executive authority. Every hospital and every first responder should have had all the PPE needed. Every household could have been sent a dozen disposable masks with a note from President Trump telling us to keep these in case we need them. What a galvanizing message that would have sent across the nation. Even if Covid-19 proved to be a non-problem, it would have been a message of Churchillian defiance in the face of a potential threat. A missed opportunity for both the American people and Trump.