Cuyahoga County Fighting To Find Protective Gear For Workers Amid Shortage

First responders, and other Cuyahoga County employees who must enter private homes as part of their work,[shutterstock]
First responders, and other Cuyahoga County employees, must enter private homes as part of their work. [Tyler Olson / Shutterstock]
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Cuyahoga County is struggling to acquire needed protective gear for first responders, and other employees who must enter private homes as part of their work, said County Executive Armond Budish.

Speaking at the county’s daily news briefing on the coronavirus pandemic, Budish said there is a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to keep workers safe who have personal contact with the public.

Social workers with children and family services, for example, are required to go into homes to investigate accusations of neglect and abuse. They are, however, lower on the priority list for protective equipment than doctors, nurses and first responders, he said.

Since those supplies are coming slowly from the federal and state government, the county has been working independently to find private businesses to purchase supplies, he said. 

“We’ve contacted vendors all over the country. We thought we had one on Friday, [but] turned out it didn’t work," he said.

“I have authorized as much money as needed to get those PPE and we will distribute it if we get it,” Budish said.

The county would distribute the equipment both to the hospitals and to county employees if they are able to find a vendor with PPE, he said.

“We’re competing. It’s international. It's not just local. It’s not just national,” he said.

First responders are also reevaluating how they use the masks and other gear to try to get the most life out of the equipment, said Terry Allan, Cuyahoga County Health Commissioner.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll start to see the flow come in,” said Allan, "but it is a challenging moment."

The county and all the large hospitals systems are exploring options to sterilize the equipment, such as the protective masks, so they can be used more than one time, Budish said.

“That’s something that some entrepreneurs, innovators, are saying is possible. We’re looking at it. We’re exploring it. I don’t know whether it will work or not,” he said.

County leaders said they have also been receiving calls from people in the community who are volunteering to make masks, said Cuyahoga County Medical Director Dr. Heidi Gullett.

“This has been a remarkable time of people being innovative, but also a time of people finding they have a box of N-95’s [respirators] here and there they didn’t realize that they had,” Gullett said.

She urged anyone who has items to donate to call the county COVID-19 phone line, 1-855-711-3035, to ensure the items are equitably distributed to the workers who need them.

County leaders also used the briefing to call on Cuyahoga County residents to comply with the Stay At Home order issued by Gov. DeWine on Sunday.

All non-essential businesses must close their doors, and non-essential employees, must stay home starting Monday at midnight, through April 6.

“We can do this. We are tough and we will get through this,” Budish said.

Although the stillness that will likely come as many people stay home will be disconcerting, all residents must abide by the order, Allan said.

“This is about saving lives,” he said.

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