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Desperate Hospital Workers Are Making Masks, Protective Gear from Office Supplies

(TIME) Hospital workers in Washington state have been making protective medical gear out of office supplies and other run-of-the-mill materials as they deal with a severe shortage of equipment needed to care for patients who may have COVID-19.

Among the supplies coming in handy: clear vinyl sheets.

“We are very close to being out of face shields,” said Becca Bartles, executive director of infection prevention at Providence St. Joseph Health, a 51-hospital system. “Masks, we’re probably a couple of days away” from running out, she said.

To buy time, Providence infection control and quality experts designed prototype face-shields with off-the-shelf materials: marine-grade vinyl, industrial tape, foam and elastic. Monday night they bought supplies at craft stores and Home Depot.

On Tuesday, about 20 administrative staff members at the health system’s corporate headquarters volunteered to work an assembly line in a large conference room, putting together 500 home-spun face shields that were going to a hospital in Seattle that night.

Providence plans to get more of the raw materials from wholesale suppliers and resume assembly later this week if it can’t get finished products. Another prototype facemask, made from a surgical wrap material that typically lines surgical trays, is still being tested to see if it meets quality standards.

Authorities should have anticipated the shortfall, said Jennifer Bayersdorfer, Providence’s senior vice president for clinical quality. “I think that they’re behind the eight-ball on this and there was plenty of warning that this going to a problem,” she said.

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