Alaska’s PPE shortage has eased, state’s top doc says

Dr. Elizabeth Bates at Bethel’s COVID-19 drive-thru test site on March 25. (Katie Basile/KYUK)

Most Alaska hospitals and nursing homes now have enough face masks and other personal protection equipment to last a month.

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink presented data on medical supplies for the first time during a news briefing on Friday. 

“The vast majority of the hospitals and long-term care facilities are reporting to us that they have greater than 30-days worth of supplies on hand,” Zink said. 

The state uses the information to determine where it should focus its efforts in keeping supplies in stock. 

The state tracks gowns, safety goggles, masks and gloves, among other supplies. It says 16% of Alaska hospitals and long-term care facilities have less than a 30-day supply of surgical masks; 36% have enough for between 30 and 60 days; and 48% have at least 60 days supply. 

The state also is keeping track of how quickly health care providers use their supplies. 

“The things that are used the most, that are burned through the most, include gloves — medium gloves — as well as isolation gowns,” Zink said.

Zink added that state health officials are constantly thinking about how to provide supplies that aren’t disposable, and how to help providers get more supplies.

She also said the tight supply of gowns and gloves is loosening.

“I don’t want it to seem like there is ample PPE in the world, but I really want people to see how we’re monitoring this,” she said. 

The state also provided more details about one of the new health mandates that went into effect on Friday. It removes the requirement that Alaskans stay at home, but it says “every effort must be taken to maintain six-foot social distance from other members of the public.” 

The state is allowing public gatherings of up to 20 people. But people must wear face coverings at these gatherings. And venues that hold gatherings must provide hand sanitizer near entrances and cannot offer food or drink. 

Restrictions on flying between road-system communities have also been lifted, though flying to and from communities outside of the road system is still limited.