Fredericksburg-area hospitals are taking somewhat drastic measures to make sure front-line workers have enough protection against the novel coronavirus.

A team of Mary Washington Healthcare officials, representing various departments, met Monday to outline ways to conserve personal protective equipment or PPE—three letters that have become synonymous with the worldwide shortage of adequate medical gear in a global pandemic.

The team decided to restrict N95 masks—the dome-shaped, close-fitting, respiratory-type protection—to nurses, doctors and staff caring for confirmed COVID-19 patients or patients who have been in contact with them. The masks also will be used by anesthesia and emergency-department providers who are intubating patients, Dr. Christopher Newman, chief medical officer, wrote in a Monday update.

The N95 masks will be signed out at the beginning of each shift and “you will only be given another mask if you return your current mask significantly soiled or damaged,” Newman wrote. “Do not throw them away after use. Only in rare circumstances will you receive more than one per shift.”

Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center has an assigned clinician who is solely responsible for overseeing PPE inventory, said Marketing Director Jael Cooper. It has adopted protocols outlined by the Centers for Disease Control for reusing gear and is encouraging workers to follow, but not exceed, guidelines for infection protection.

“We are allowing for the use of both N95 masks as well as standard facemasks,” Cooper said in a statement. “Since COVID-19 is spread by droplets, in most instances, standard face masks offer adequate protection.”

Both hospitals are accepting donations of PPE, including masks. Likewise, Stafford County is collecting masks and other gear from businesses and local donors for use by its first responders and to give to local hospitals.

Newman’s update outlined the new storage recommendations for those precious N95 masks. They should be stored in a breathable, brown paper bag and allowed to dry between shifts.

“Use every effort to extend the use of your N95 beyond one shift,” he wrote.

Newman also wrote that MWH will use its stockpile of PPE before shifting to industrial or homemade versions.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

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