Italy’s health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak are facing increasing shortages of personal protective equipment, forcing many to wear the same face mask for 12 hours and leaving them exposed to the infection, an aid group said Monday.

Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, said the shortages of much-needed medical supplies have become common in Italy, which has the most COVID-19 cases outside China.


“Even in high-level European hospitals, we see health workers are overwhelmed, coping with up to 80 ambulances per day,” said Dr. Claudia Lodesani, the MSF president in Italy.

A man wrapped in a survival blanket is assisted by medical staff upon his arrival at one of the emergency structures that were set up to ease procedures at the Brescia hospital in Italy Monday. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Nearly 1,700 health care workers have already been infected in Italy, the group said. The European Union said measures are being taken to ensure that medical supplies are delivered to critical areas within the 27-member coalition.

The number of coronavirus cases in Italy surged Monday to 24,747, while the death toll remained at 1,809.


“Today it is Italy that urgently needs supplies of medical equipment to protect health care workers, but in a few weeks, it may also be the case elsewhere,” the head of the MSF COVID-19 task force in Brussels, Brice de le Vingne, was quoted as saying.

The U.S. surgeon general said Monday that the United States is about where Italy was two weeks ago in the battle against the coronavirus, a sign that cases could rise.

Some doctors have been forced to wear the same face mask for a 12-hour period amid shortages of medical supplies, Lodesani said. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

“We are at a critical inflection point in this country, people," Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told Fox News. "When you look at the projections, there's every chance that we could be Italy."

The U.S. has seen a rise in infections since the outbreak began, with at least 3,700 confirmed cases and 68 deaths as of Monday.

When sales of face masks spiked in the U.S. late last month over fears of the rapidly spreading virus, leading to price gouging and potential shortages, Adams implored Americans to stop buying masks.

“[Masks] are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if health care providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk,” Adams wrote on Twitter at the time.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says masks should be worn only by medical professionals and those with the virus, adding the best way to stay healthy is to wash your hands and avoid touching your eyes and mouth.

Fox News' Brie Stimson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.