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Israel: Hospitals reportedly told to prep to reuse protective gear amid shortage fears

The Health Ministry on Saturday reportedly instructed Israeli hospitals to prepare to reuse protective gear due to a shrinking supply of equipment used by medical personnel while treating coronavirus patients.

In a letter sent to hospitals, the ministry’s deputy director-general warned growing demand across the globe for protective equipment could leave Israel without a fresh supply, according to Channel 12 news.

“The rise in demand and the damage to the supply chain could lead to a swift depletion of equipment in the countries of the world, without a proper ability to replenish supplies,” Itamar Grotto was quoted writing in the letter.

The ministry reportedly recommended that hospitals reuse face coverings such as the much sought after N95 face masks, which can block up to 95 percent of airborne particles.

The letter from Grotto said the used face coverings should be checked to make sure they are intact, washed with water and soap, dried and disinfected before being put in a plastic bag with the name of the worker who wore it for potential reuse, the network reported.

The ministry was not yet recommending that medical personnel reuse protective overalls and fluid resistant hospital robes, but said used ones should be stored in protective containers in case they are needed, the report said.

Like in other countries dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, there have been concerns in Israel about a shortage of medical supplies needed to treat patients with the virus, such as masks and ventilators.

There was also a reported shortage of reagents used by medical laboratories to process coronavirus tests, causing facilities that take samples from suspected carriers of the virus to reduce their operating hours.

According to Health Ministry data from Friday, 294 medical workers in Israel have been infected with the virus, with no deaths. The figures did not include a breakdown on how the medical workers contracted the disease.

Countries that have been hit hard by the virus, such as Italy and Spain with combined deaths of more than 25,000 and nearly a quarter-million cases, have struggled to protect medical staff on the front lines of the outbreak and reported a high percentage of infections among health care workers.

In Italy, more than 11,000 medical personnel have been infected — just under 10% of the official total — and some 73 doctors have died, according to the National Institutes of Health and the association of doctors.

Significantly, not all the doctors were working in hospitals. Many were general practitioners or dentists, who were believed to have been exposed via respiratory droplets.

To address the medical supply shortages in Israel, the Defense Ministry last week said it would take responsibility for purchasing all equipment related to the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to make the process more efficient.

The Mossad intelligence service has also been tasked with securing medical equipment from abroad amid the worldwide shortages.

Also Saturday, Channel 12 reported the Health Ministry was pushing the government to make its recommendation that Israelis wear a face covering while outside a requirement.

The ministry would bring the matter before the government for approval in the coming days, according to the report.

In a televised statement Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Israelis to wear masks in public and said people who don’t have them can use an improvised facial covering such as a scarf.

Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov reiterated that Israelis should not rush out to buy masks as they should be left for medical professionals, but can improvise with material and rubber bands.

Many Israelis have already taken to wearing surgical masks as well as latex gloves as a precaution when they go out in public.

Top health officials in Israel initially said Israelis did not need to wear face coverings, adding there was no evidence they were effective in preventing people without the virus from contracting it, but have since called on the public to use them.

As of Saturday evening, there have been 7,851 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel, with 43 deaths.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.