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19 Mar, 2020 16:11

DIY disaster: CDC tells nurses to ‘use bandanas and scarves’ as face mask shortage hits US

DIY disaster: CDC tells nurses to ‘use bandanas and scarves’ as face mask shortage hits US

The US Centers for Disease Control has advised nurses and frontline healthcare workers to use bandanas and scarves as makeshift masks when caring for Covid-19 patients “as a last resort” should hospitals reach “crisis capacity.”

The updated guidance comes during a national shortage of face masks as supplies dwindle amid soaring infection numbers. The CDC acknowledged that the new advice to “use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19,” goes against recommended standards of care across the US and cautions that “homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield.” 

The CDC wields major influence on infectious disease protocols in hospitals and care facilities across the US and the body admits that the protection level afforded by homemade face masks “is unknown.”

Previous guidance emphasized the need to use N95 masks, also referred to as “respirators,” before supplies were exhausted. Then healthcare workers were told to use surgical masks, even though they do not block airborne viruses but are designed to shield against droplets of saliva and mucus. Despite this, surgical mask stocks have been severely depleted from hospitals, hence the DIY disaster response advice. 

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“The CDC guidance came out telling people not to use N95 masks. That helps with the supply of N95s, but it puts a greater burden on the supply of surgical masks,” Mark Parkinson, president of the American Health Care Association, said. 

Parkinson cited examples of nursing homes using improvised masks and gowns made out of plastic bags and now estimates that, within two weeks, up to 40 percent of suppliers will not be able to provide protective equipment for nurses and doctors. 

The American Medical Association wrote a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, who was tasked with handling the coronavirus crisis by President Donald Trump, beseeching him for more assistance in obtaining N95 respirators and surgical masks to help protect frontline staff. 

It is unclear how many hospitals and care facilities are experiencing “crisis capacity,” but the US currently has 9,415 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection.

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Bonnie Castillo the head of National Nurses United, the largest nurses’ union in the US, called the CDC guidance a “recipe for making this disaster worse, potentially far worse.”

If we are not safe, no one is safe.

Meanwhile, the American Nurses Association (ANA) said the recommendations were “appropriate,” adding that hospitals should inform staff when they have reached “crisis capacity.”

“The guidance with regard to the use of face masks is appropriate given the need to adapt the standard of care given the situation of the facility,” ANA Vice President of Nursing Practice and Work Environment Cheryl Peterson said in a statement. 

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