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Doctors, nurses warn of another protective gear shortage as coronavirus surges

Dr. Sandra Fryhofer had so much trouble finding surgical gowns and masks for her Atlanta office several weeks ago that she said she was forced to rely on her patients for help.

“One of my patients had a friend who lives in China, so early on, she sent me 30 masks,” Fryhofer told ABC News. “When I got them, I just cried because there was a time that I didn’t have anything to offer my staff.”

Now in July, as coronavirus cases rise in Georgia and 38 other states and some set hospitalization records, Fryhofer said she’s still struggling to provide protective equipment for her staff — and she’s not alone. Front-line medical workers and doctors in private practice are again sounding the alarm over ongoing shortages of protective gear, as they are forced to burn through supplies to treat the growing number of infected patients.

Months after some New York City nurses were forced to wear garbage bags for protection, the shortage of protective gear impacting rural and urban hospitals, nursing homes and private physicians’ offices is one of several problems with the nation’s pandemic response that have resurfaced again, along with delays in testing and crowded hospitals in several regions.

“I just cannot believe that we are in this situation again,” said Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, who previously served as Baltimore’s Health Commissioner. “It’s because of failure of planning and anticipation.”

In interviews with ABC News, nurses, doctors and health care supply chain experts blamed the scarcity of masks, gowns and gloves on the Trump administration’s decision not to centralize and coordinate the purchase of protective gear, which has forced states and hospitals to bid against each other.

“Everybody thought it was kind of solved, but it really hasn’t been,” Deborah Burger, the president of National Nurses United, told ABC News.

They also expressed frustration with the lack of transparency with the state of the supply chain, and President Trump’s refusal to leverage the Defense Production Act to compel producers to scale up operations to prepare for the resurgence of the virus.

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