How Many Tests? How Many Masks? Local Officials Unsure

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Dr. James Kravec, chief clinical officer for Mercy Health-Youngstown and medical director of Mahoning County Public Health, said Friday morning he could not offer exact numbers on the supply of available tests for COVID-19, nor specific counts of available personal protective equipment, or PPE, for health care providers.

“We continue to monitor it and we’re working closely with the [Mahoning County Emergency Management Agency],” he says.

Kravec made his comments during a phone interview today with The Business Journal to discuss procedures for when COVID-19 patients are discharged from the hospital.

Workers at Mercy hospitals and care centers “have the equipment they need and we’re doing the best we can to conserve” to keep workers safe, he says. The hospitals have closed down nonessential areas, including cafeteria seating, coffee shops, book stores and gift shops, and have eliminated many elective surgeries, he says.

“Next week, we’ll be eliminating more, such as certain outpatient and physical therapy visits,” he says, “all with the intent to preserve PPE.”

A shortage of PPE is as been a national concern. On Thursday, the New York Times reported some health centers are considering shutting down because they do not have enough face masks. An emergency room in Los Angeles received a box of expired masks with elastic bands that snapped when they tried putting them on.

During a coronavirus task force press conference on Monday, President Donald Trump advised state governments to try purchasing PPE “on their own” if it means receiving the equipment faster.

The Ohio Emergency Management Agency has tried and, last week, reported it was experiencing a backlog, with some suppliers saying there was a “71-day delay,” says Dennis O’Hara, director of the Mahoning County Emergency Management Agency.

Locally, the Emergency Management Agency, or EMA, is in the process of getting an accurate count of masks, gowns, gloves, eye protection and other PPE, including from first responder agencies “so we know what exactly we have in the county,” O’Hara says.

The agency needs the numbers in order to apply for inventory from the state’s allocation of the Strategic National Stockpile received from the federal government, he says. Ohio has received its allocation, and aside from being told “it’s not very much,” the county hasn’t been advised of what’s in it, he says.

“My assumption is it is all PPE,” O’Hara says. “There could be testing kits in it, but I highly doubt it.”

By state law, the county is required to “exhaust local resources completely,” before it receives any of the allocation, he explains. The state will also want to know the county’s “burn rate” – how fast it’s going through PPE – how long the county expects the supply to last and how much the county has to share, he says.

In the meantime, the EMA has put out a request for PPE donations, asking other medical offices and businesses – such as manufacturers – who have halted operations to provide what they can, he says. O’Hara requests donations not be dropped off, instead have a pickup arranged.

Those interested can contact the EMA to schedule a pickup at [email protected] or by calling 330 599 5351 to set up a donation pickup. The donation will be picked up by a uniformed first responder in a marked vehicle and will be distributed “depending on what we get to the departments that need it the most,” he says.

“If we receive anything, we will be checking it over and inventorying it with our first responders” before potentially distributing it, he says.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.