PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In a U.S. Congress briefing held virtually, a Brown University medical expert urged federal lawmakers to ramp up the manufacturing and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) for essential workers and health care professionals on the front lines of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Megan Ranney, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School and emergency physician at Rhode Island Hospital, addressed the nation’s legislative leaders on a panel of medical professionals, first responders, grocery store workers, drivers, custodians and others who have provided essential services during the coronavirus pandemic.
The panelists offered testimony from their homes and offices as part of a Thursday, May 21, briefing titled “Heroes of the Coronavirus Crisis: Protecting Frontline and Essential Workers During the Pandemic.” They spoke at the invitation of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, convened earlier this year from within the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
In her remarks, Ranney shared details of her own experience treating COVID-19 patients, underscoring the challenging conditions that face medical workers and other essential service providers who face shortages of adequate PPE. At Rhode Island Hospital, staff began to stockpile PPE in January, as soon as the risk of an impending crisis became clear. By mid-March, as positive cases mounted in New England, they were running dangerously low on supplies, she said.
“The supply chain had completely dried up,” Ranney said. “Overseas manufacturing had been diverted other hotspots like Italy. We internally had not ramped up our U.S. production on time. I have innumerable colleagues across the country who have been infected — some have died.”
In the U.S., workers in essential services have been among the hardest hit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in mid-April that more than 9,200 health care professionals had tested positive for coronavirus and at least 27 had died. More than 65 grocery store workers have died from the virus, and more than 9,800 have been infected or exposed, according to data from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. And an investigation by the Guardian found that as of mid-April, the coronavirus had killed at least 94 transit workers across the U.S. and infected nearly 2,500 in New York City alone.
Ranney said the shortage of protective equipment nationally inspired her to band together with colleagues and form Get Us PPE, a grassroots movement that sources and distributes PPE to doctors, nursing home workers, medical students and delivery workers across the country. In the first week, Get Us PPE received 1,000 requests; within a month, the group had successfully distributed 1.6 million pieces of PPE.
Despite the success of Get Us PPE, Ranney told members of Congress:
“We need a more stable and predictable solution than what we are able to provide as volunteers and donors... We must ramp up manufacturing, increase the stockpile for frontline workers... and ensure that this protective equipment is distributed equitably to everyone who needs it.”
Following Ranney’s remarks were testimonies from other Americans who have struggled to acquire PPE as they continue to work on the front lines, including a nurse at the University of Chicago Medical Center; an emergency medical technician with the New York Fire Department; managing partner of a restaurant group in New Orleans; a Detroit bus driver whose friend and fellow driver died of coronavirus; and a parent whose daughter died after becoming infected at the Maryland grocery store where she worked.
Video from the briefing will be available for viewing at coronavirus.house.gov.