MultiCare orders reuse of disposable face masks amid coronavirus shortage

MultiCare Health System, based in Tacoma, Wash., is reusing face masks intended for a single use because it is running out of supplies, The News Tribune reported.

Workers at MultiCare hospitals gave The News Tribune a copy of a staffwide email telling them to reuse masks because otherwise, the system would run out in "one or two days." 

They are being asked to keep the single-use masks in sealed bags or on hooks outside of patient rooms so they can be used all day and to only throw out a mask if it is visibly soiled. The masks are expected to last a 12-hour shift. 

The rationing order doesn't apply to items used during sterile procedures, such as surgery, but does include eye protection such as eye shields, face shields and goggles, The News Tribune reported. 

MultiCare's website says it is following the WHO guidelines for personal protective equipment. 

The WHO protocol for disposable masks is for them to be used once and disposed of immediately afterward. 

A MultiCare spokesperson told The News Tribune that it has requested masks from the state and federal stockpile, an emergency stash of medical supplies controlled by the government. 

The spokesperson said that in an ideal situation, it wouldn't be rationing masks, but "we are not in an ideal situation, and we don't have enough masks to make that happen." 

Workers at several MultiCare hospitals told The News Tribune they are uncomfortable with the system's new measures, as using the same mask with multiple patients can spread germs. 

A registered nurse at Good Samaritan in Puyallup, Wash., told The News Tribune that sealing a surgical mask in a bag means all the germs spread from the front of the mask to the back, which would then touch the staff's noses and mouths when they reuse them. 

Becker's Hospital Review has reached out to MultiCare for additional comment and will update this story accordingly. 

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