Denver doesn’t have enough of the face masks, gloves, protective suits and other gear needed to stop the spread of the new coronavirus as it infects more people every day. Neither does the state of Colorado. Or the federal government.
As those on the front lines await fresh deliveries of those supplies — called personal protective equipment, or PPE — nonprofits, businesses and private citizens are stepping up to bridge the gap.
Denver and Colorado public health officials cannot say when they expect more equipment. The city is waiting on the state, which is, in turn, waiting on the federal government. Without it, efforts to quell the virus’ spread will come to a screeching halt, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said bluntly during a Monday news conference.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has been waiting for more gear from the national stockpile for several days, said spokesperson Nathan Brown. Once delivered, the department will allocate that equipment across the state.
“Right now, as it stands, we do have insufficient supplies,” Brown said. “We don’t know where we’re going to end up sending these supplies, we don’t even know when we’re going to get them.”
Elsewhere in the United States, hospitals are already struggling with too few supplies and working to find ways to protect workers, The New York Times reports. The national stockpile reportedly contains some 13 million N95 masks, a heavy-duty type often used by health care workers, and factories in China are now scrambling to make more. Alex Azar, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has said the country could need as many as 300 million to fight the spread of the virus.
But Coloradan Andy Magel isn’t short on masks. He has too many, so Tuesday morning he donated nearly 4,600 N95 masks to Denver’s virus prevention efforts.
Magel is the director of the Mile High Workshop, an Aurora nonprofit that teaches job and life skills to those recently released from jail, experiencing homelessness or suffering from addiction problems. Their clients do transitional work such as light manufacturing, assembly and shipping.
“We used to do woodworking but we don’t anymore, so there’s this pallet of these masks that we’ve had for a few years,” Magel said. “And with things becoming a little crazy, there’s no use saving these to use over the next decade.”
Like many nonprofits, the Mile High Workshop is always in need of money, but hoarding or price gouging the masks felt wrong, he said.
“We thought about selling them,” he said. “But that was when things seemed a little less serious, which was about four days ago, and now it’s like no, that’s not the right thing to do.”
After reading about Denver’s shortage Monday, Magel contacted The Denver Post.
Bob McDonald, Denver’s public health director, responded to Magel’s offer in a matter of seconds.
“You’ve got my attention,” McDonald told The Post when he learned of Magel’s intentions.
Thousands of face masks will go a long way, he said.
“That’s critical. That’s a huge help,” he said. “How long will that go is hard to say. It depends on how quickly (the coronavirus) spreads.”
Magel said Denver Fire Department representatives picked up the masks from his shop Tuesday morning, and he felt satisfied that he was able to help.
“The firefighter said they can only send one person into a call right now because they’re so low on stuff like that,” Magel said. “They just don’t have enough equipment. They seemed super grateful, and I think they’re going to take them back to the station and use them right away.”
A Westminster business was next to step up. Josephine Becker, a management trainee for Cintas First Aid & Safety, said the business has a lot of gloves, lab coats, face masks and more that could be sold to the city, perhaps at a discount.
Again, McDonald was interested and thankful.
But still more equipment is needed, city and state officials acknowledged.
Supplies from the national stockpile will only go so far, said Conor Cahill, spokesperson for Gov. Jared Polis. As they’re received, face masks, face shields, gowns, coveralls, gloves and more will be distributed throughout the state with an emphasis on health care settings at the highest risk of infection and with a targeted focus on nursing homes, he said.
“But we’ve seen the extreme demand this disease is placing on resources throughout the world,” Cahill said in a text. “Over the course of the response to this pandemic, we’re all going to need more supplies.”
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