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Supply shortage forces Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation to sanitize and reuse gloves

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

The regional health care provider issued a notice  Oct. 21 to Facebook 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.

“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 its Facebook page, “YKHC is forced to follow CDC's guidance to optimize PPE during this nationwide shortage.”

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

The CDC says that 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. It does not advise using the gloves for more than six patients.

YKHC President and CEO Dan Winkelman said that the health corporation has 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," Winkelman 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 personal protective equipment.

During a briefing on Oct. 21, Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said that gloves are hard to get nationwide because states are purchasing gloves to prepare for mass vaccinations.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta is hitting its highest number of COVID-19 cases at the same time that cases are rising across the nation, in what the COVID Tracking Project refers to as a third national surge, with 17 states hitting new peaks in cases on Oct. 8.

Winkelman said that YKHC is using a “tremendous” amount of PPE, and he warns that the health corporation does not have enough gloves or masks to deal with a surge in cases. Each COVID-19 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.

On Oct. 21, the same day YKHC released its annoucement of reusing gloves, State Director of Public Health Heidi Hedberg called Alaska’s PPE supply "sufficient,” saying that the state is working to get YKHC the materials it needs.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation received less than a one-day supply of gloves from the state’s emergency operations center. The delivery arrived Oct. 22 after YKHC issued a notice saying that it was sanitizing and reusing gloves to conserve supply.

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