In a matter of weeks, hundreds of manufacturers across Colorado have suspended normal production of things like snowboards, outdoor gear and clothing to make personal protective equipment for health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak.
They’re making masks and face shields and parts for ventilators. But federal red tape and limited capacity to test and certify the new products for medical use in Colorado have left some manufacturers in limbo.
“It is not unusual for any of us to get 100 emails in an hour,” said Noel Ginsburg, chairman of the state’s manufacturing and sourcing task force. “We can’t test everything, so we will prioritize those things that are going to go into the health care system first.”
“There’s a lot of positives going on for sure,” he said, “but it’s a complex system, and we have to set honest expectations.”
Colorado is in desperate need of N95 medical-grade masks and other personal protective equipment, including gloves and medical gowns. Last week, Colorado received 2 million masks from China, and will be receiving 100,000 more from Taiwan this week. But gear is still in short supply – so much so that some health care providers have asked for help figuring out how to 3D print their own face shields. As of Sunday afternoon, there are nearly 5,000 people who have tested positive for the virus in Colorado, and at least 140 have died.
“We are facing a crisis-level shortage of these essential supplies to protect our health care workers and first responders,” Gov. Jared Polis wrote in a March 28 letter to Vice President Mike Pence, who’s in charge of the U.S. coronavirus task force.
The federal government has been slow to deliver the equipment Colorado has requested from the Strategic National Stockpile. According to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, the state has received only 11% of the 2 million requested N95 masks; 11% of the 880,000 face shields; 11.6% of the 4.5 million surgical masks; 14% of the 720,000 gowns; 11.7% of 4.3 million gloves; and none of the 10,000 requested ventilators.
The lack of supplies has led Colorado companies and manufacturers to step in to help fill the gap. But the state is still figuring out how to streamline the process for new producers trying to get their products certified and into the state’s hospitals.