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caption: U.S. Army soldiers store medical equipment near the ICU area of the military field hospital inside CenturyLink Field Event Center on Sunday, April 5, 2020, in Seattle. The 250-bed hospital for non COVID-19 patients was deployed by U.S. Army soldiers from the 627th Army Hospital from Fort Carson, Colorado, as well as soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
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U.S. Army soldiers store medical equipment near the ICU area of the military field hospital inside CenturyLink Field Event Center on Sunday, April 5, 2020, in Seattle. The 250-bed hospital for non COVID-19 patients was deployed by U.S. Army soldiers from the 627th Army Hospital from Fort Carson, Colorado, as well as soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

'Huge need’ remains for masks, gowns and breathing systems in Washington state

Washington state is giving a field hospital deployed at CenturyLink Field Event Center back to the federal government. It turns out we don’t need the hospital beds as badly as some other states.

Meanwhile, our state is still struggling to get supplies for the nurses and medical staff on the front lines of the pandemic. KUOW’s Paige Browning brought us this update.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

The military had just set up the 250 beds at the event center, and now they're going to be packing it back up. The governor says we don't need this.

Gov. Jay Inslee says we asked for this military field hospital before we started the stay home measures. He says those have been working to slow down the number of new Covid-19 cases in Washington state.

Inslee is sounding more confident that our hospitals can handle all of the patients we may have here.

Yes, he is sounding more confident, and so is the state's Department of Emergency Management. They’ve said this week that they're confident about our hospital capacity, but we will still have a beefed up hospital system. We just won't have this special hospital field at CenturyLink, but the state has purchased 1,000 extra hospital beds.

Those can go to existing hospitals where they have space. Those will go to a former Medical Center in Yakima that's going to be a temporary hospital.

Additionally, a former nursing home in Seattle is going to be a temporary hospital. That's still continuing, just not the larger one at CenturyLink Field. But at this point, Inslee and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan say that if we keep this social distancing up, we will have enough beds to get through this.

Officials are feeling a little better about our hospital capacity, but there is something Washington still does not have enough of. That's personal protective equipment. How short are we today?

The items we most need are gowns, face masks, and what are called respiratory protection systems. Those are the face shields and the hoods that medical staff wear. There is a huge need.

The state has ordered 10 million gowns. That's how many the state has determined we'll need here. The state has received about 230,000 as of Monday.

Washington has asked for 33 million surgical masks and has received about 1.5 million as of Monday. There are similar numbers for the N95 masks. These are all based on an outlook of about a 12 week-out need.

On a good note, our supply of ventilators looks strong. That's why Washington already sent back ventilators that were set aside by the federal government for our state. Inslee sent back about 400 to the Strategic National Stockpile so they can go to other states.

We're hearing that California is now taking matters into its own hands when it comes to face masks. Instead of waiting for shipments from the federal government, California's governor is now saying they're going to spend $990 million on personal protective gear. Could that benefit Washington at all?

It just might. This is a big deal, and another move in this trend of states filling roles that the federal government traditionally would. California is buying masks directly from manufacturers, and it's going to roll out a new mask cleaning technology. It's possible Washington could use that technology.

If California ends up with even more masks than it needs, it could share with us. California's governor actually said today that “we're confident we can supply the needs of the state of California and potentially the needs of other western states.” Maybe that's us.

One way our state is trying to stock up on supplies is by asking manufacturers here in Washington to make them. Do we know how that effort is going?

I don't have a comprehensive look at this, but it is clear that more companies are turning into medical supply makers. I like this example today, face shields made by a kayak company in Washington. That has got to be a sturdy mask. It's Eddyline kayaks in Burlington.

Also making face shields is GM Nameplate in Seattle. They usually produce for Boeing and other companies.

I've got some hand sanitizer now from a distillery in Spokane, called Spokanitizer. They're having some fun with this. And we're seeing a lot of smaller companies step up to manufacturer medical supplies.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.