As communities prepare for an anticipated surge in coronavirus cases, local police, fire and EMT responders are making due with a dwindling supply of protective gear to limit their own exposure.
But with personal protective equipment in short supply nationwide, some departments say they will have to alter their response plans to protect their staff.
Earlier this month, the New Hampshire Department of Safety asked local departments to take an inventory of their protective gear, including gloves and N95 masks, which can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Based on those findings, state officials made a request to federal authorities for more protective gear, but that need was only partially met.
State officials declined to provide details on what type of gear was received, and in what quantities, but according to state Sen. Jon Morgan, New Hampshire received about 25 percent of its initial request from federal strategic reserves.
Morgan, a Democrat from Brentwood, said he’s been told that all of the supplies received were past their expiration dates; however, the state says the personal protective gear has been determined to be “effective” against the spread of the virus, per the FDA.
“All local entities making high-priority requests have received portions of their total requests, and more materials are expected to be delivered,” according to a Department of Safety spokeserpon. “The state is working closely with federal, state and private entities to procure more” personal protective equipment.
There is a nationwide effort to rush protective gear into the hands of the people on the frontlines of treating those stricken with the virus, from health care workers in urban hospitals to even small police departments in more rural communities. Brentwood police say they are taking steps to protect officers while they await more supplies, including not dispatching law enforcement to respond to medical calls, which is common.
“We are really doing everything we can to limit exposure to the public,” said Brentwood Chief Ellen Arcieri.
Her department has 11 N95 masks in its inventory. While she is requesting more supplies from the state, including protective gowns and eye gear, she also acknowledged that the bulk of protective equipment should be sent to hospitals and EMTs.
“We are going to be last on the list,” she said. “We are doing what we can with what we have.”