Demand for N95 respirators is 17 times higher than normal, survey reveals

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As cases of coronavirus continue to exponentially increase in the United States, a new survey reveals how a shortage of critical supplies, combined with massive demand, is fueling the growing public health crisis.

According to a survey conducted by Premier, the rapid spread of COVID-19 across the country has created 17 times the typical demand for N95 respirators, which are now the subject of worldwide bidding wars as countries scramble to protect their health care workers.

The survey released on Wednesday also found that those hospitals with active COVID-19 patients had an average of just three days’ worth of N95 inventory; the average respondent had 23 days worth on hand.

As of Thursday afternoon, there were more than 981,000 cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with the U.S. accounting for one-quarter of that total.

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“Since our earlier survey of hospitals’ supply levels, we have much more precise detail on the increased use of supplies,” said Premier President Michael J. Alkire in a statement. “Our data shows that many providers believed they were well equipped, only to see their stocks depleted in a matter of days as they started requiring increased use of PPE across a broader population of health care workers.

"In providing new information on surge needs, we hope more hospitals will better understand what’s ahead so they can begin conserving supplies and adjusting their overall plans before they have a confirmed case. As we’ve seen repeatedly with this pandemic, planning and preparedness are essential to providing continuous, quality care,” he added.

Premier also showed surging demand for an array of other medical supplies: 8.6 times for face shields, 6 times for swabs, 5 times for isolation gowns and 3.3 times for surgical masks.

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“To date, most attention about supply shortages has focused on N95 masks, which was one of the first PPE items to fall into short supply as consumption surged to provide care to COVID-19 patients,” Alkire says. “Although this supply remains a top concern, backorders for surgical masks, isolation gowns, thermometers and disinfecting wipes are surging and quickly surpassing demand for N95s. This is an early warning signal of product shortages that may be on the horizon and need to be planned around.”

Premier's survey was conducted from March 16-20; approximately 42 percent of the respondents reported having at least one confirmed COVID-19 case at their facility.

“Premier encourages every facility to begin surge planning for these supplies immediately,” Alkire says. “At a time when many providers are operating in crisis mode, these statistics are critical to our hospitals as we assist them in using predictive modeling to prepare for their future supply needs.”

N95 respirators block 95 percent of very small particles, according to the FDA.

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