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Maricopa County prioritizing PPE for hard-hit long-term care facilities

(Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP)

PHOENIX — Maricopa County is working to get personal protective equipment into metro Phoenix’s long-term care facilities, which had seen 77 cases of coronavirus resulting in 13 deaths as of Tuesday morning.

The county announced Monday it was prioritizing its limited supply of personal protective equipment to stock long-term facilities that have confirmed COVID-19 cases. PPE, which includes surgical and N95 masks, gowns, gloves and face shields, is used by health care workers and others caring for sick or vulnerable people.

Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, the county’s public health medical director for disease control, said a proper amount of PPE is “the only way that our facilities can follow” practices that help stop the spread of the virus.

“When a case of COVID-19 is identified in a long-term care facility, there is greater risk of severe disease and spread due to the age and overall health of people living in these facilities and the fact they often dine and do activities together,” Sunenshine said in a press release.

Metro Phoenix has more than 500 long-term care facilities, which include skilled nursing centers, nursing homes, assisted living and hospice. As of Monday, 66 coronavirus cases and 10 deaths had been linked to 22 long-term facilities in Maricopa County.

On Tuesday morning, the county reported totals of 1,494 cases and 35 deaths.

Maricopa County Public Health Director Marcy Flanagan said the department is getting only a fraction of the PPE it needs from the federal government.

Over three shipments of Arizona’s allotment from the Strategic National Stockpile, Maricopa County has received 108,432 N95 masks, 263,480 surgical face masks, 32,786 face shields, 36,202 surgical gowns, 212 coveralls and 162,008 gloves as of Monday, the county said.

“Although helpful, these allocations are nowhere close to what is needed in a community of our size,” Flanagan said in the release. “To put this into perspective, hospital systems use about 544,000 surgical masks per week.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that if a facility identifies a single case of the coronavirus, every patient should be put into isolation with contact with just health care workers.

These workers would need to use personal protective equipment every time they enter a room.

Sunenshine said adequate PPE is critical to reducing the spread of coronavirus in long-term facilities.

“This is why we have made the decision to prioritize PPE for long-term care facilities that have confirmed COVID-19 cases,” she said.

“We believe our limited supply of masks and gloves will have the most impact in long-term care facilities where it will protect the lives of our loved ones who are at the highest risk of severe disease and will also keep them out of the hospital, reducing stress on the health care system.”

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