U.S. faces another shortage of PPE, including masks, as virus surges

As the U.S. remains gripped in a long-predicted autumn coronavirus surge, the nation is also reportedly experiencing a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), including important N95 masks.

Levels of PPE at many health care facilities are well below what regulators recommend, according to The Wall Street Journal. While states have been trying to build supplies of N95 masks, those stockpiling efforts are being slowed by the latest increase in coronavirus cases.

On Wednesday, the U.S., for the first time, recorded more than 100,000 new cases of the coronavirus in a day.

“N95s are still in high demand," 3M Chief Executive Mike Roman told The Wall Street Journal. "We have more demand than we can supply,” 3M Co. is on track to produce nearly 100 million masks a month in the U.S. this year, more than four times what it made before the pandemic. Honeywell International is producing 20 million N95 masks a month in the U.S. Other companies have added capacity for at least 20 million N95 more masks a month.

According to data tracked by The Washington Post, 17 states on Wednesday reported record numbers of patients hospitalized with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Those states included Kansas, Tennessee, Virginia, Oklahoma, Montana, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana and West Virginia.

On Tuesday, Georgia passed 8,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began. On Wednesday, the state Department of Public Health said 366,452 people have been hospitalized. Almost 1,900 new cases were reported overnight, with 44 more deaths since Tuesday.

According to data compiled by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the U.S. continues to lead the world in the number of coronavirus cases — more than 9.4 million — and deaths, with almost 233,500.

Cases and hospitalizations are setting records all around the country just as the holidays and winter approach, demonstrating the challenge that either President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden will face in the coming months.

Daily new confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. have surged 45% during the last two weeks, to a record seven-day average of 86,352, according to Johns Hopkins data. Deaths are also on the rise, up 15% to an average of 846 deaths every day.

Several states on Wednesday reported grim numbers that are fueling the national trends. Texas reported 9,048 new cases and 126 deaths. The number of coronavirus patients in Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma hospitals set records. About one-third of the new cases in Texas happened in hard-hit El Paso, where a top health official said hospitals are at a “breaking point.”

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Public health experts fear potentially dire consequences, at least in the short term. Dr. Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association, said there are things Americans can do now to help change the trajectory.

"Regardless of the outcome of the election, everyone in America needs to buckle down,″ Bailey said. “A lot of us have gotten kind of relaxed about physically distancing, not washing our hands quite as often as we used to, maybe not wearing our masks quite as faithfully. We all need to realize that things are escalating, and we’ve got to be more careful than ever.”

Federal health officials have said they believe a vaccine could get emergency-use authorization before the end of the year. The first limited supplies of doses would then be immediately distributed to the most vulnerable populations, which likely will include frontline health care workers. Doses would then gradually become more widely available.

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The timeline hinges on having a vaccine that’s shown to be safe and effective, which experts note is not yet a certainty. “The vaccine has to move at the speed of science,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice at Johns Hopkins University and former Maryland state health department chief.

On the treatment front, the makers of two experimental antibody drugs have asked the Food and Drug Administration to allow emergency use of them for people with mild to moderate COVID-19. Trump, who received one when he was sickened last month, has said he wanted them available right away.

So far, the FDA has granted full approval to only one drug — the antiviral remdesivir — for hospitalized patients. Dexamethasone or similar steroids are recommended for certain severely ill patients under federal treatment guidelines.

The government continues to sponsor many studies testing other treatments alone and in combination with remdesivir.

Most Americans support mandating mask-wearing in public and think preventing the virus from spreading is a higher priority than protecting the economy, according to AP VoteCast, a nationwide survey of more than 133,000 voters and nonvoters conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.