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Union-organized video conference highlights problems facing state workplaces, medical care professionals on frontlines of the COVID-19 fight.

PMG PHOTO: JOHN SCHRAG - Signs festoon the entryway to the Kaiser Permanente Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro, where the first COVID-19 case in Oregon was treated. Health care and retail workers told harrowing tales Monday, March 30, of working without adequate protections against sick patients and customers.

Meanwhile, the state's emergency manager warned that Oregon was only in the first mile of what could be a marathon to defeat the coronavirus here. Andrew Phelps said that assessment was based on the experiences in other states and countries.

pmgDuring a video press conference hosted by SEIU 503, Gov. Kate Brown, members of Congress, union members and others blasted federal officials for not providing enough personal protective equipment to states. Hospitals, nursing homes, state and local governments, and others are having difficulty finding equipment available on the open market.

"I'm already anticipating I will be infected because I lack personal protective equipment," said Casey Parr, a respiratory therapist at OHSU. A 35-year-old, he is considering for the first time whether to write a will. OHSU President Dr. Danny Jacobs said 12 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.

Nike is in the prototype stage of making and testing face shields for potential use at OHSU. Brown and others called on the Trump administration to provide the specifications — some of which are protected by patents — that would allow Oregon companies to start manufacturing personal protective equipment.

Some nurses in Central Oregon wear the same N95 protective mask for three weeks straight, according to Sarah Laslett, executive director of the Oregon Nurses Association. Portland nurses wear swim goggles as partial protection. Some hospitals are storing used masks in bags or bins until the coronavirus no longer is considered viable and then reusing the masks.

Irene Hunt of Springfield said she and other home-care workers have not been provided with masks, gowns or other protective equipment. Neither can they find them in stores to buy on their own. They also worry about running out of gloves.

She has used a homemade mask, provided by her church, in an attempt to protect both herself and her clients. Worried about becoming infected, she has sent her daughter to temporarily live with a relative.

'First mile of a marathon'

A Fred Meyer worker in Salem said many customers violate social distancing requirements and don't cover their coughs or sneezes.

Rick Miller, head of the Avamere group of nursing homes and other care facilities, said his employees have resorted to using bandanas as face masks and wearing ponchos or oversize men's shirts as gowns.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley noted that Oregon has quickly gone from averaging 10 new cases a day to more than 60. On Monday, the Oregon Health Authority reported 58 new cases and three more deaths, bringing the state's death toll to 16. The three patients who died Sunday were men in their 80s and 90s with underlying medical conditions.

Brown said Oregon received 25% to 40% of the PPE requested from the federal government.

Phelps, the director of the Office of Emergency Management, said in a video press conference later Monday that the state was buying all the PPE it can find. That included 135,000 N95 masks and 300,000 surgical masks being processed this week for distribution around Oregon. Hundreds of thousands more will be needed.

"We're expecting this pandemic to last for a very long time," he said. "We're in the first mile of what's going to be a marathon."


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