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As cases climb and hospitals are overwhelmed with patients, health-care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic are encountering shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) — a problem also experienced at the start of the pandemic.

For weeks, nurses have posted online testimonials about a lack of masks, gowns, face shields and gloves, with some reusing N-95 masks for days and even weeks at a time.

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National Nurses United, the nation’s largest nursing union, released a survey of 23,000 nurses in June that found 87 percent of respondents were forced to reuse single-use disposable N-95 masks with COVID-19 patients.

“A lot people thought once the alarm was sounded back in March surely the federal government would fix this, but that hasn’t happened,” Deborah Burger, a nurse in Sonoma County, California, and president of NNU, told the The Washington Post in an article published July 8.

Like many health-care workers and health care supply chain experts, Burger blames the shortages on the Trump administration’s decision not to centralize and coordinate the purchase of protective gear, which has forced states and hospitals to bid against each other.

“We’re not a shipping clerk,” President Donald Trump said in March, adding each governor is responsible for their states’ equipment needs.

Unfortunately, healthcare workers continue to be a high risk. Nearly 107,000 have gotten the virus, and 560 have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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On Wednesday, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) told Congress the country has “a ways to go” on getting enough protective equipment for health workers fighting coronavirus but said “the place we are in today is much better than we were 60 days ago.”

“This is not as simple as just throwing a light switch and we just magically make more,” Administrator Pete Gaynor said, adding the underlying issue is that the U.S. does not make most PPE and is reliant on other countries.

“We’re not going to buy our way out of this with just money,” he noted. “We’re going to have to improve the industrial base to make these critical items in the U.S. so we’re not at the whim of our global competitors.”

As California passed New York in total coronavirus cases on Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced plans for a new contract with Chinese manufacturer BYD that would procure another 120 million N-95 masks and 300 million lower-grade masks by early fall.

“Securing a reliable supply chain of PPE allows us to distribute millions of protective masks to our essential workforce while preserving millions more in our state’s stockpile for future use,” Newsom said in a statement.

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