Supply shortages shut down COVID-19 test site, has hospitals asking for donations

Hospitals in our area are running out of basic supplies to provide care for patients or test for COVID-19.

Some hospitals are asking their staff to reuse face masks, while others are asking for face mask donations.

Snoqualmie Valley Hospital opened a walk-up test clinic for COVID-19 on March 9 and tested about 530 people but had to shut down the site earlier this week after running out of a liquid needed to preserve the virus. The hospital is also running out of face masks.

“We are in aggressive mask conservation status right now. We are wanting the supply we have on hand to endure for as long as possible,” said Dr. Kim Witkop, the interim CEO at Snoqualmie Valley Hospital.

In a secure space inside, nurses’ masks are hanging on the wall, each with their name on it.

“So when they return to work in the site, they can reutilize this mask,” Witkop said.

The hospital says per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, masks are thrown out if any foreign material gets on them or if they get too wet.

“If it's absorbed so much moisture now that it's wicking from one side to the other, then it's time to go,” Witkop said.

But an even more dire shortage the hospital is facing is something critical to testing for COVID-19. It’s a pale, orange-colored liquid in a test tube.

“This is the viral transport media. It's what sustains the virus until it can get to the testing site,” Witkop said.

Unlike many of the other hospitals offering large-scale testing in the area, Snoqualmie Valley was offering testing to patients outside its hospital system. And you just had to show symptoms or have been exposed to someone who had tested positive.

Most other hospitals are still only testing symptomatic patients facing the highest risk – like people who are over 60 years old or have a preexisting condition.

Snoqualmie Valley Hospital said people were coming from all over the Puget Sound to get tested.

“That’s what was demonstrated for us - that the need is really out there. There are a lot of folks in the community that are walking around that really don’t need to seek urgent or emergent care, but they are positive and they need that information to appropriately quarantine,” Witkop said.

Multiple hospitals have launched drive-thru coronavirus test sites. Kaiser Permanente launched four locations already and will open up more Thursday.

It’s also shut down most of its clinics, switching to virtual care and meeting patients by phone, message and video.

“It’s a big deal for us because every place and visit we don’t need to use that equipment, we can save it for use for someone else. That’s more days to buy for our hospital teams who really need it very badly,” said Dr. Angie Sparks, a family medicine doctor at Kaiser Permanente.

The new policies help with social distancing and save supplies, and staff, too.

Kaiser Permanente is funneling many of those resources to run the new test sites.

Seattle Children’s Hospital is also feeling a supply shortage. The hospital is asking people to donate unopened boxes or bags of face masks.

The Snoqualmie Valley Rotary Club has already collected masks to donate to the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital.

“Right now, the hospital needs materials,” said Jonas Means, president-elect of Snoqualmie Valley Rotary. “People have been hoarding, maybe buying a little too much.”

The Snoqualmie Valley Hospital said it saved enough supplies to test for the coronavirus in the emergency room and for inpatients. Staff requested face masks and that viral transport solution from federal resources, and they plan to open the test site again as soon as they get more of that liquid.