Hundreds of medical professionals have signed onto a petition urging Gov. Ralph Northam to address a growing supply crisis amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The petition, started Saturday by Charlottesville pediatrician Dr. Paige Perriello, had more than 300 signatures by Saturday evening and was growing by the minute. The most signatures were from Charlottesville health care workers, with nearly 200. Twelve workers in Albemarle County, four in Culpeper, two in Nelson and one in Greene had also signed by press time Saturday evening.
Perriello, who works at Pediatric Associates of Charlottesville, said that many of her colleagues “feel scared” about a possible shortage in vital equipment.
“Everybody feels worried that they’re not going to have enough stuff or not have the right level of stuff so it feels like quite a pressing issue,” she said.
The petition focuses on personal protective equipment, such as face masks and hand sanitizer.
“Medical professionals are risking our lives on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis,” it read. “We beg you to use your exceptional powers immediately — literally TODAY — to solve the desperate medical supply shortage that is thwarting our efforts to control this pandemic before it reaches the point of no return.”
Although officials said Saturday that the state is trying to get more supplies, the petition urges Northam to take further action.
As the virus spread across the country last week, people flooded stores, buying up toilet paper, face masks and other supplies. The rush has made it difficult for hospitals and medical employees to find necessary equipment.
For example, a community health center in Minnesota is considering shutting down because it doesn’t have enough face masks, doctors in St. Louis are performing procedures with loose-fitting masks and expired equipment is all that is available in some Los Angeles emergency rooms, according to The New York Times.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump said that millions of supplies were in production after he said he would use the Defense Production Act to marshal resources, but that states would be largely in charge of addressing the shortfall.
The petition asks the governor to funnel supplies currently are sitting unused in closed schools, labs and businesses to hospitals; incentivize solutions; and establish clear communication lines between medical professionals and the Virginia Department of Health.
“Given the outbreak’s rapid spread, each day that you wait to establish an emergency supply protocol means more medical providers will fall ill, which threatens the catastrophic collapse of our entire healthcare system,” the petition states.
Perriello said that local residents have come up with innovative ideas: Local sewers are making fabric face masks and distilleries are creating hand sanitizer. Pediatric Associates has put a call out for DIY masks, and Perriello said her team is working with several local aid groups to coordinate donations, with information for volunteers forthcoming soon.
“Those are exactly the kind of things that we think would be wonderful,” she said.
But while those efforts are welcome and may ease the burden for professionals treating routine concerns, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that DIY face masks and bandanas should be considered a “last resort” while treating coronavirus patients.
On Saturday, the University of Virginia Health System announced that it is in “immediate need” of personal protective equipment for health care workers and is asking all university labs to donate any equipment they have.
UVa has taken steps to stretch its supplies by canceling procedures and rescheduling clinical visits, and may take more drastic measures to limit visitors and surgeries if necessary.
State help is on the way, but may still fall short as other states and localities jockey for resources.
Daniel Carey, Virginia’s secretary of Health and Human Services, said Saturday that the state is distributing supplies from the national stockpile but is looking toward industrial suppliers or local manufacturers for more protective equipment for frontline first responders and prisoners, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“We are pursuing every opportunity, and I think it’s also important to say that this is a national problem,” Carey said. “This will not be solved without a national solution.”
Two new local cases
Two new confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported in the area Saturday, bringing the number in the Thomas Jefferson Health District to nine, per local officials. Four are in Albemarle County, three are in Charlottesville and one case each is in Fluvanna and Louisa counties.The district also covers Nelson and Greene counties.
Albemarle had a new case reported Saturday and Louisa County had its first case.
According to Louisa officials, the person in that locality received positive test results Saturday. The person was tested Thursday and has been quarantined since that time.
Reporting by the Virginia Department of Health is lagging behind local sources as the state website only shows one case in both Charlottesville and Albemarle County and doesn’t yet reflect cases in Fluvanna, Louisa or Rockbridge counties or at least two new cases in the Harrisonburg area that were announced on Friday.
The state website reports 152 cases and two deaths as of noon Saturday, an increase of 38 cases from Friday.
The Times-Dispatch reported Saturday that Virginia now has the ability to perform testing for over 1,000 patients in addition to private laboratories, and that the state is changing testing criteria to give priority to medical staff treating people with the virus.
During his daily press briefing Saturday, Northam said the state is changing testing criteria to give priority to medical staff treating people with the virus, according to the Times-Dispatch. Health officials said they’re also focusing on testing those with respiratory illnesses and are relaxing criteria for people residing in nursing homes.
Another local business decided to close its doors indefinitely on Saturday.
Mark Mincer, the owner of Mincer’s, announced that the UVa sportswear store would close indefinitely starting Saturday at 6 p.m.
“We tried to hang on for a while so the employees would still have some hours, but it is no longer wise or safe,” Mincer wrote on Twitter.
Mincer could only remember a few times the store had been closed since opening in 1948. He said it closed for his mother’s funeral in 1993, his grandfather’s funeral in 1996 and his father’s funeral in 2012.
Mincer’s website will remain open and orders will still be shipped.