Ms. Murray said medical staff members worried that surgical masks offered little protection when treating asymptomatic carriers of the virus. She said she was increasingly seized with anxiety as the hospital filled up with coronavirus patients, some of them sent from local nursing homes, because staff members lacked even basic protective gear and were unable to care for them.
Hospital administrators, she said, won’t even allow employees to wear N95 masks they have purchased with their own money. “We’re nurses — we want to take care of our patients and we want them to be safe,” Ms. Murray said. “But at the end of the day, we want to go home to our families and know that they are safe too.”
A spokeswoman for St. Petersburg General declined to comment on the hospital’s mask policies but said adequate supplies were available to employees who needed them.
Across the country, private medical offices, especially those without access to group purchasing networks, are struggling to get protective gear on the open market. Even when they can find them on Amazon and other websites, doctors say they are paying up to $7 for N95 masks that sold for less than a dollar before the pandemic.
“Community physicians have it worse because we are at the bottom of the totem pole,” said Dr. Inderpal S. Chhabra, an internal medicine specialist in New Hyde Park, N.Y., who recently reopened his office but could see only four or five patients a day because of limited supplies. “Everyone is running around like crazy trying to get N95s, but no one can get them. I afraid for my staff.”
At Arizona Community Physicians, a private health clinic in Tucson, medical technicians are not given N95 masks but they are still required to see Covid-19 patients, who arrive for nonemergency procedures like mammograms, ultrasounds and chest X-rays, according to two employees who asked to remain anonymous for fear they could lose their jobs. The employees say they have been unable to buy medical grade N95 masks online; some vendors have run out of supplies while others say they won’t sell to individuals. “Every day I go into work and I am scared to death — not just for myself, but for my family,” one worker said.
Arizona Community Physicians did not respond to emails and phone messages seeking comment. A spokesman for the Arizona Department of Health Services said state regulations for protective gear did not apply to private clinics.