In the Healthcare Industry, Coronavirus Drastic Times Call for Drastic Measures

The coronavirus pandemic is causing major medical supply and personnel shortages. This fact, combined with a massive increase in the number of sick patients, is putting the U.S. healthcare system under significant strain.

Dozens of doctors, nurses and EMTs have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, and an even larger number are being forced to quarantine after possible exposure. And—considering that 90 percent of registered and licensed nurses are women—women make up some of the largest numbers of those on the frontlines fighting the virus.

In an attempt to alleviate massive pressure on the healthcare industry and inevitably brace for more, the U.S. is implementing several measures—from invoking emergency war-time acts to retrofitting factories to respond to unprecedented supply needs.

Laws Loosened on Doctor Requirements and Retired Nurses Called Back into Workforce

To meet the ever-growing demand for healthcare workers, retired nurses are being called on to step back into their roles.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on retired medical professionals to sign up to be on call to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont issued a similar plea, asking retired nurses to get in touch with former employers about returning to work. Lamont also said the state is in talks to accelerate the training requirements for nursing students to get them into service more quickly.

The Department of Health and Human Services has also waived regulations to allow doctors to practice medicine in states other than the one that issued their license—allowing doctors from other states to provide services across state lines.

Shortage of Much-Needed Supplies Calls for Trump to Invoke the Defense Production Act

U.S. healthcare workers like doctors and nurses face risks greater than the nature of their jobs—in the form of shortages of much-needed treatment supplies and protective equipment like N95 face masks, ventilators and coronavirus test kits.

Nurses in San Francisco reported having to re-use masks, concerns of understaffing and a lack of communication from management.

“There are limited supplies of ventilators and hospital beds, which is why hospitals and public health officials all across the country are urging the public to follow the guidance of the CDC and other public health leaders on social distancing and other actions,” said Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Association. “The best way not to overtax the health care system is to keep more people healthy.”

The Trump administration has been heavily criticized for its handling of the crisis in the lead-up to virus’s current state—the government’s testing program was delayed for weeks while the virus spread around the country undetected.

On Wednesday, Trump said that he sees the country on wartime footing, and in response to mounting pressure from legislators, announced the invocation of the Defense Production Act—a wartime provision established in 1950 to respond to production needs during the Korean War—to begin to compensate for medical supply shortages.

The law allows Trump to require that private companies manufacture specific products like masks, ventilators and other equipment.

Additionally, in anticipation of a major influx of patients as the coronavirus spreads, two U.S. Navy hospital ships are being deployed to the coast of New York and as well as the West Coast.

The two hospital ships will not treat coronavirus patients, but rather patients with other ailments, in an attempt to free up beds in traditional hospitals expected to be overwhelmed in the coming weeks and months.

While these ships will offer undoubted relief, it’s important to note they are in no way a cure-all: The ships will take weeks to deploy and will provide 2,000 hospital beds—a small number relative to the additional 50,000 beds needed in New York alone, per Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The Army Corps of Engineers Called to Retrofit Existing Buildings

On Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to Trump, asking that he direct the Army Corps of Engineers to retrofit existing buildings to care for coronavirus patients.

The effort, championed by other government leaders like Gov. Cuomo, would rapidly build field hospitals and retrofit existing buildings, like warehouses, into temporary care centers.

To pay for the projects, Sen. Warren said she “supports taking DoD military construction funds previously diverted for wall construction and diverting them to supplement the federal government’s coronavirus response.”

The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-moving.

During this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media.

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Roxy Szal is the managing digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast On the Issues With Michele Goodwin. She is also a mentor editor for The OpEd Project. Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.