A statewide outbreak of COVID-19 in Maryland nursing homes prompted Gov. Larry Hogan on Sunday to require all nursing home staff in the state to wear Personal Protective Equipment, consisting of a mask, gown, gloves and eye protection.

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But obtaining the gear is easier said than done.

Kent County Health Officer William Webb said hospitals and nursing homes are using conservation methods to extend the life of limited supplies until the national supply chain catches up with the demand.

“Every healthcare facility [in Kent] has implemented some type of PPE conservation strategy and that is up to each one of the facilities,” he said in a brief interview on Monday.

He said N95 facemasks, the gold standard for facemasks, are usually discarded after one use, but the Kent Pilot has learned that some nursing facility staff in Kent are issued just one per week. Webb confirmed that this has been the case in some instances.

Webb said the Kent County Health Department was assessing the current inventory of masks at facilities here and what their anticipated “burn rates” could be based on the number of employees. He said the burn rate would be higher for workers who would come into regular contact with infected individuals.

Webb said the CDC has offered guidance on using masks for longer periods.

One method to extend the life of an N95 mask is put in a warm oven at no more than 160 degrees, Webb said.

“It’s not warm enough to melt the plastic but warm enough to kill the virus,” he said. He said the cloth masks should be laundered in the “hottest water you can get.”

He said all masks are desperately needed and the hierarchy of need puts N95 masks at the top, surgical masks in the middle and then homemade cloth masks. 

“I do not want to discourage anyone from making masks, “Webb said. “They are desperately needed.”

Donna Mercer of Village Quilting in Rock Hall said her fabric store has been busy selling supplies to health care workers in Easton and Chestertown, who in their off-time make masks for themselves and their co-workers. 

If you want to join the mask making effort call Cheryl Hoopes at 410-703-3321 or send an email to admin@sumnerhall.org.