Brianne Bernini, an emergency department technician at Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park was told when she arrived at work last Thursday that she’d get one face shield to use for her entire six-hour shift.
A few hours later, she and her co-workers were informed they’d have to keep their masks safe because they’d have to use the same ones for the foreseeable future. “We don’t have any other shields coming to our hospital,” she was told.
Normally, she would dispose of the personal protective equipment she uses between seeing patients. But that has changed for Bernini and many others as COVID-19 continues to spread, and health care workers across the United States are confronted with shortages of equipment like masks, gloves and gowns needed to protect them and their patients.
“We are having to step out of the room and then cleaning these items and then going into the next room, not knowing if we are subjecting the next patient to possible [coronavirus],” Bernini said Friday during a conference call with reporters organized by the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning Washington think tank.
Bernini, who’s also a member of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, worked last week in a group that was specifically tasked with ruling out instances of COVID-19, she said. “But we are also not testing any patients, because we don’t have any tests. So we’re assuming that everyone has it.”
The hospital’s website noted as of Monday that its emergency room does not offer COVID-19 testing. The hospital also directs patients to a website that encourages them to use video and telephone visits whenever possible.
As of Monday, Minnesota had confirmed 576 cases of COVID-19 and had completed 18,822 tests, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Ten deaths had been reported in the state. (See the Reformer’s daily Covid tracker.)
Bernini has received conflicting information about how to best protect herself from the virus, she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had recommended until early March that health-care workers interacting with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients use N95 respirators, along with gowns, gloves and eye protectors, the Washington Post reported. Due to widespread shortages, the CDC changed its guidance to say that looser-fitting, less protective surgical masks were “an acceptable alternative.”
“It’s scary. I’m scared to death to go to work every day,” Bernini said.
She’s afraid of infecting her elderly parents — both of whom have medical issues — or her husband, she said.
Her co-worker, a nurse, “ended up buying like a welding mask because she’s so scared that she’s going to bring this home to her kids,” Bernini said.
A typical shift for Bernini is 12-hours in the emergency department. “So I have the possibility of encountering many coronavirus patients throughout my shift,” she said.
“And if we, as the frontline workers, get sick, there is nobody to replace us, and that means when you get sick, or your family members get sick, who’s going to be able to take care of them?”