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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Faced With Limited Coronavirus Protection, Health Care Workers Take Precautions

Two N95-type face masks, or respirators, and a N100-type mask.
Debora Cartagena
Two N95-type face masks, or respirators, and a N100-type mask.



Many North Carolina health care workers are taking new precautions as the state, like many across the U.S., grapples with a shortage of masks, face shields and other supplies during the coronavirus pandemic.

The state requested, among other things, 500,000 each of N95 masks, procedure masks and face shields from the Strategic National Stockpile, Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said Monday. The stockpile is a collection of medicine and medical supplies managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But North Carolina has received a fraction of the personal protective equipment for health care workers it’s asked for.

On Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper said he has received 17.6% of protective gear requested from the Strategic National Stockpile.

“I don’t want to be the person who caused anyone any harm or spread the virus to anyone. I think all of the nurses are very concerned about that,” said Dennis Taylor, President of the North Carolina Nurses Association and a nurse practitioner in acute critical care and acute care surgery at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem.


A lot of nurses have changed their routines to try to keep themselves and others healthy, according to Taylor. For example, they now change in and out of scrubs at the hospital instead of wearing them to and from work. They pack the scrubs into a bag at the end of a shift to take home and wash immediately. 


Taylor said some hospitals have asked health care providers to wear a single surgical mask for a full day, one of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recommended strategies to conserve supplies. He said the practice could be dangerous if dealing with a patient who is later diagnosed with the coronavirus. 


“If we don’t take care of ourselves, who’s going to be there to take care of our patients?” Taylor said.


For Dr. Bryant Allen, who teaches emergency medicine at Atrium Health’s Carolinas Medical Center, the virus has temporarily split up his family. Allen said his wife and three young sons, aged 5, 3 and 1, recently moved out of Charlotte because of the possibility he could expose them to the virus.


“Weighing the risk of bringing home something like that, or potentially exposing friends and relatives to that, you know, it weighs heavy,” Allen said. 


Allen said he and other Atrium health care providers have started removing watches and wedding rings before seeing patients to limit places where germs could linger. 


Meanwhile, there are many examples of residents across the state working to close the gap on the shortage of protective equipment for medical workers. A Facebook group called Face Masks For Health Care Providers in North Carolina has around 330 crafty members who are sewing masks from fabric and elastic. Engineering teachers and students at Charlotte Latin School have raised funds to 3D print face shields for nurses and doctors. 

Emergency Management Director Sprayberry said in addition to the federal supplies, his agency is waiting on millions of dollars in protective equipment from private companies.


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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.