Due to national shortage, health workers in Western Alaska are forced to reuse gloves

A hand with a blue glove drops a test tube in a ziploc bag held by two green hands.
YKHC technicians collect samples in June, 2020. (Katie Basile/KYUK)

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation is sanitizing and reusing gloves as its supply of the personal protective equipment runs short.

The regional health care provider issued a notice to Facebook on Wednesday announcing that its workers are wearing the same gloves for up to six patients and sanitizing the gloves with alcohol-based hand sanitizer between patients.

Read more stories of how the coronavirus is affecting rural Alaska

“Because YKHC needs to have enough PPE to continue to provide health care or respond to COVID-19 surges and medevacs,” the health corporation wrote on Facebook. “YKHC is forced to follow CDC’s guidance to optimize PPE during this nationwide shortage.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this conservation method can be considered “in times of extreme disposable medical glove shortages.” The CDC cites research that shows the alcohol-based hand sanitizer does not degrade the disposable, medical-grade gloves.

The CDC said gloves should be throw away after they become visibly dirty or contaminated with bodily fluids, after becoming damaged, after being worn for four hours, or after being taken off.

YKHC president and CEO Dan Winkelman said the health corporation has actually been rationing gloves and other supplies, like N-95 masks, since February.

“As the pandemic gets worse, there’s more burden put on our medical infrastructure,” Wilkeman said. “It’s not just having the ability to deal with each and every patient. It’s also having the ability to deal with increased testing needs.”

YKHC is attributing its difficulty in getting gloves to a nationwide shortage of all sorts of personal protective equipment, or PPE.

RELATED: COVID-19 surge in Y-K Delta continues with 92 new cases on Wednesday

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta is hitting its highest number of COVID cases at the same time that it’s happening across the nation, in what the COVID Tracking Project refers to as a third national surge, with seventeen states hitting new peaks in cases in early October.

Winkelman said a “tremendous” amount of PPE is being used by YKHC now, and he warns it does not have enough gloves or masks to deal with a surge in cases. Each COVID outbreak strains the available supplies.

“It’s been happening since the pandemic has started and unfortunately, we can expect it to continue and that’s going to be a significant problem.”

Winkelman said YKHC is working with federal and state partners, like the governor, on the issue.

Anna Rose MacArthur is a reporter at KYUK in Bethel.

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