UF Health Anesthesiologist Dr. Bruce Spiess would rather be safe than sorry when it comes to the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the battle that Gainesville and the world is taking on against COVID-19.
Dr. Spiess is a leading force in addressing predicted PPE shortages in Alachua County as the number of positive COVID-19 cases continue to rise. On March 25th, UF Health announced Spiess’ discovery that the surgical wrap that keeps tools sterile in the operating room could be repurposed for making PPE such as face masks.
And while UF Health explores mass production of two mask designs that would be produced for medical professionals who treat COVID-19 patients, a group of volunteers known as the Gainesville Face Mask Crafters and Makers Against COVID-19 are sewing masks that will be distributed to other hospital personnel.
According to Spiess, once every one of the 12,000 employees at UF Shands has a set of two face masks to alternate between, the next recipients in Alachua County will be first responders both in emergency services and in other essential businesses such as grocery and other retail, and restaurant employees who continue to deal with the public.
“It would be wonderful if everyone in society would be wearing a mask,” Spiess said as he noted the low number of positive cases reported in Hong Kong, a city of 7.5 million people. Spiess said the population put on face masks and kept them on since the battle of COVID-19 started in late January. The country also instituted a lockdown early in the battle.
As of March 27, the CDC reports Hong Kong positive cases at 518 with four deaths.
Compare that data with the U. S. and Alachua County. In the U.S. 137,047 positive cases have been reported for a population of 329 million and there have been 2,400 deaths.
Alachua County reports 72 cases in the past two weeks and zero deaths as of March 29th, with a population of about 133,857 according to the U.S. Census in 2018.
Spiess points out that Hong Kong flattened the curve drastically which is what the rest of the world is trying to do.
Spiess was recently asked this question in an interview: Why is it that Hong Kong is doing so well?
His response: “Because 99 percent of the population wears masks all the time.”
If two people are near each other when one sneezes and both are wearing face masks, Spiess said, “You’ve got probably 80 to 90 percent of that sneeze contained with the first mask and the other person filters it too.
“So your chance of dissemination goes down. It would be wonderful if everybody in society could wear a mask.”
With that in mind, Spiess spells out his plan for UF Health and Alachua County.
“We will hand them out to every person in our hospital,” he said. “Our goal is that every person that works in our hospital, janitorial staff on up, security guards, people who could be dealing with COVID patients will have two of these within a week or two.
“Everybody who walks into the hospital who works there will have enhanced protection.
“The way the University of Florida will use them,” Spiess explained. “If someone is working with a COVID patient, they will use full hazmat and an N95 mask.
“Other people on that ward where COVID is happening, we’d like these masks to be available first to people in the emergency room and also to the anesthesia teams that have to deal with patients in the operating rooms.
“We’re going to roll these out into four different levels across the institution. Once we saturate our institution, we’ll go to police and fire rescue.”
He estimates that 12,000 employees work at UF Health which means the first 24,000 masks produced are earmarked for them.
“We have produced 850 and we’ll have another 1,000 made Sunday (March 29),” he said, “By Wednesday over 5,000 and by next weekend I’d like to see 15,000 to 20,000.
Spiess said local hospitals such as North Florida Regional Medical Center and Ocala General Hospital are mimicking his idea of saving the surgical wrap and turning it into PPE.
The movement has gone global, he added. “A number of countries in Europe are doing it,” he said. “Many medical centers in Canada and Melbourne, Australia are making masks.
“And I have been in discussion with people in Hong Kong.
“I just heard from my 93-year-old mother in Chicago that there is a report on the Chicago news media that the University of Chicago is doing it.
“Well, yesterday the University of Chicago contacted me and I told them how to do it.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if in the next few months, every person in the United States wishes to wear a mask all the time.”
Spiess said the next PPE that will go into mass production will be a hazmat suit.
“We created a complete hazmat design,” he said. “And by Tuesday, the complete suit pattern will be online as well as the helmet that goes over your head. Those suits right now are few and far between.”
Spiess said the effort is a cottage industry effort that makes something that health care workers and first responders need to have.
“The virus is doubling every two days, so we are playing catch up.”
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