Oregon is running out of masks, gloves and gowns needed to protect health care workers from contracting the coronavirus

Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, announces new state restrictions in a news conference in Portland on Thursday, March 12. (Jonathan House/Pamplin Media)

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Health care providers in Oregon are running out of protective masks, surgical gowns and other personal protective equipment that protects them from contracting the coronavirus.

“I am deeply concerned that within the next short weeks we will have providers who need to treat patients without masks, without face shields and those kinds of things,” Pat Allen, Oregon Health Authority director Pat Allen told a legislative committee tasked with responding to the coronavirus outbreak on Wednesday. “That’s a critical problem.”

Allen said the state will run out of personal protective equipment, often referred to as “PPE,” without a significant change at the federal level. Oregon officials are expecting a surge in Oregonians infected with COVID-19, estimating there could be 75,000 cases by mid-May.

Allen said that the state started out with almost 590,000 respirator masks that protect against airborne hazards and has used a fourth of them. For surgical masks, the state has 18,000 left after starting out with 49,000. The state had 23,000 surgical gowns and has burned through 83% of those, he said.

The state now is rounding up donations of supplies from medical offices that have them to spare for COVID-19, including dentists and veterinarians.

State officials are asking medical and other private sector companies to donate new masks, gowns and gloves to the state’s supply. Donations will be inspected, inventoried and distributed to medical professional across the state working with COVID-19 patients.

Donations can be mailed or dropped off at:

ATTN: PPE Coordinator

Dept. of Corrections

3601 State Street

Salem, OR, 97301

More information can be found online.  

Preparing for a special legislative session, the committee heard from government, business and labor representatives about the challenges they faced from the pandemic.

During the hearing, Melissa Unger, executive director of Service Employees International Union Local 503, said that she had received reports of health care workers having to recyle plastic face shields and others wearing garbage bags on their feet.

Allen said that in response to the dwindling supply of PPE, Plan A has been for health care providers to restock using their ordinary suppliers.

“The challenge, of course, is that those suppliers are generally in China, and China has prohibited the export of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies,” said Allen.

Plan B, he said, has been to use the state stockpile to distribute supplies to health care providers. He said that’s what the state has been doing but there is a finite amount of supplies.

Plan C has been to access the national stockpile, but Oregon so far has only received 10% of what it’s asked for with a promise of another 15% he said. Plan D is to access emergency federal stockpiles held by the military and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Allen said the state is currently on Plan E, which he described as looking “creatively in our own backyard” for PPE that’s available in a non-medical environment. He said the state could look to high-tech manufacturing or begin producing its own supply.

“And there’s no Plan F available,” he said.

Sen. Denyc Boles, R-Salem, asked about the distribution of supplies. Allen responded that a formula is used.

“Nobody is getting everything they’re asking for because we’re trying to get this stuff to last as long as we possibly can,” Allen said.

Gov. Kate Brown has issued an executive order directing health care providers to preserve surgical masks, gowns and gloves for health care workers treating COVID-19 patients. She banned all elective surgery.

Earlier this month, Brown wrote to Vice President Mike Pence, who is overseeing the federal response, to request 400,000 respirators, gowns and gloves, Tyvek suits, Biocell Ambulance Protection Systems, in addition to 75 to 100 ventilators. 

During a press call on Thursday, Brown said the state has received about 25% of the state’s request from the federal government after a shipment came in.

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.