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Report: PPE supplies were in short supply when Gov. Kemp eased COVID restrictions

Gov. Kemp eased COVID restrictions as health workers decried equipment shortages

ATLANTA — When Gov. Brian Kemp began lifting pandemic restrictions in April, state officials knew then, that personal protective equipment supplies for health workers were in short supply. That’s according to documents obtained by Kaiser Health News

When nurses and other workers and supporters rallied outside the Atlanta VA Medical Center on April 17, they complained loudly that health care workers in the hospital didn’t have enough PPE – personal protective equipment -- like N95 masks, in a pandemic that threatened both patients and workers.

Now, state data shows the government was indeed facing significant shortages, right around the time Kemp was considering re-opening businesses and easing restrictions on crowds.

State documents obtained by Kaiser Health News show the state had substantial shortages of surgical masks and other personal protective equipment.

"Georgia reopened when, obviously, we didn’t have enough PPE and N-95 (masks). We were woefully short in our stock supplies," said Irma Westmoreland, a registered nurse, who works at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta. "The report tells us how many we needed and we were way, way short of the number.”

On April 10, state data showed: 

  • It had on hand 527,424 N95 masks while projecting it would need nearly twice that many -- 1,074,753 -- over the following seven days.
  • It had 196,500 sets of gloves on hand when it would need 12,134,108 over the following seven days.
  • It had 63,448 surgical gowns when it would need 2,201,343 over the following seven days.

RELATED: Kemp defends record after report of Georgia's highest-in-nation COVID case rate

"State officials were really looking at deficits that were enormous -- face shields, gowns, masks that all the doctors, nurses and others need to keep themselves safe that are treating patients with COVID-19," said Rachana Pradhan, who co-wrote the Kaiser Health News report.

By April 19, the state had nearly doubled its supply of masks -- to 932,620 -- while still projecting it would need 6,945,988 in the following 30 days.

On April 20, Kemp eased restrictions on crowds and started reopening businesses. 

"Nothing in the data we’re seeing right now alarms us," Kemp said on April 20.

Yet, Westmoreland says the PPE shortage still has not abated four months later.

"How come we’re still in crisis mode?" she asked on Wednesday. "We do not have adequate supply of N95 masks that we don’t have to reuse during the day, and that problem has just exacerbated. It has not gotten any better."

RELATED: Gov. Kemp signs new executive order allowing local governments to set limited mask mandates

A spokesman for Gov. Kemp says it actually has gotten better, and that the state is now building a stockpile of personal protective equipment.

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