Prepping PPE

Brenda Donithan, Mercer County Health Department threat preparedness coordinator, sets out personal protective equipment the way health care professionals would wear them in order to take a COVID-19 swab test.

PRINCETON — Mercer County is creating a stockpile of masks, sterile gowns and other personal protection equipment as COVID-19 case numbers keep increasing locally and across the region.

The Mercer County Commission recently approved setting up a stockpile of person protection equipment (PPE) to prepare for more surges in the COVID-19.

“Yes, we’re trying to have a full stockpile of emergency PPEs in case we have a second wave of the coronavirus coming this fall,” said Tim Farley, director of the Mercer County Office of Emergency Management.

Avoiding the situation Mercer County was facing when the pandemic started is the goal behind having a stockpile.

“Originally, nobody in the country was prepared for coronavirus,” Farley recalled. “They didn’t have any stockpiles of anything and what stockpiles came from vendors were quickly dissipated. All of their items were bought and purchases were quickly off the shelves. Most went to hospitals, nursing homes, first responders; indeed, it got to the point where first responders couldn’t buy any PPE.”

This equipment includes items such as N-95 masks, face shields, gloves, thermometers and gowns, and they are becoming more available.

“Yes, the production has caught up with the demand better than it has before,” Farley said. “We’re able to purchase things online or through other local agencies...so availability is much better than it was back in March and April.”

The director of one local rescue squad said first responders are consuming PPE supplies during every call they answer.

“We’re still treating every call as if it’s a COVID patient and we’re using PPE on every call, and that’s to protect our employees and protect the community as well,” said Stacey Hicks of the Princeton Rescue Squad. “It does seem to be getting a little better as far as getting products in. The problem is the expense of it. It is very expensive.”

Hicks estimated that Princeton Rescue has spent about $90,000 on PPE supplies starting about late February or the first of March.

“You’ve got to imagine, we run about 15,000 calls a year, so it’s at least two people on every call; so that’s 30,000 sets of PPE per year,” he stated. “We purchased sterilizing boxes to put N-95 masks in, which does help us to reuse them somewhat; but if they become soiled, we have to replace them, anyway.”

“It has put a strain on our budget, and you know we have been blessed. The Community Foundation of the Virginias gave us a grant that helped pay for some of it,” Hicks said. “And we have been able to get a little bit of funding from the federal government: not a lot, but some.”

Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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