The coronavirus outbreak in Washington state has not yet reached the “peak” that some public health officials anticipate, but already ICU physicians like Mike Holmes are grappling with a dearth of necessary supplies.
Holmes described an “extreme shortage” of the masks that he and his colleagues at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle need to treat COVID-19 patients. “We are now reusing single-use masks over and over and over again,” he said.
It’s a challenge facing healthcare workers across Washington state, who are asking the general public to donate any personal protective equipment (PPE) they have. The state government’s warehouse of personal protective gear is empty. Though Washington is receiving some supplies from the federal stockpile of protective equipment, people on the front lines of the crisis say it is not enough.
But long before Washington became a hotspot for COVID-19, it was an epicenter of innovation, home to Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, and hundreds of tech startups known for creative problem-solving. Many of those innovators are now stepping up to find ways around supply chain challenges and the global shortage of protective gear for healthcare providers.
Microsoft emerged as an early responder to the crisis, leveraging its global footprint to secure supplies for its home state. The software giant is donating thousands of items, including 30,000 box lunches for families, 240,000 surgical masks, 35,000 hand sanitizers, and additional supplies, according to Microsoft President Brad Smith. The company plans to secure additional supplies and donate them as they come in.
It’s not just organizations with the resources of Microsoft that are stepping up. Individuals in the Washington business community are finding their own creative ways to get protective equipment in healthcare workers’ hands.
Rachel Popkin and other volunteers in the tech community created FindTheMasks.com to help healthcare workers access personal protective equipment.
Rachel Popkin, a product manager for Google Chrome, based in Seattle, was inspired by a text message from a friend working in a Bay Area ICU. The physician asked Popkin how to spread awareness for the mask shortage hospitals everywhere are experiencing online.
Popkin realized they had a box of N95 masks in their basement, acquired during the wildfire outbreak that ravaged the Pacific Northwest two years ago. Popkin couldn’t sleep thinking about the request, so they decided to develop a simple website FindTheMasks.com.
“My thinking was, during this shortage if we can just connect those supplies that already exist, that are already …read more