As Covid-19 Cases Surge in the Midwest, Direct Relief Provides Support

Shipments of PPE and other medical supplies were dispatched to Montana, North and South Dakota, and Idaho. The organization will ship Covid-19 support kits to more than 50 additional Midwest partners.



A Direct Relief staff member packs protective gear and other medical supplies on November 5, 2020. (Maeve O'Connor/Direct Relief)

As Covid-19 case counts have surged across the upper Midwest, Direct Relief focused its latest round of efforts on equipping health care facilities with the medical supplies they need to effectively protect health workers and treat the disease.

On Wednesday, the United States recorded 136,000 new cases – the highest daily record for the country thus far. While pandemic case counts are still increasing in previously besieged states like California and New York, numbers have also soared in the Midwest, including in North and South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming.

Evidence suggests that the country may be entering a larger, more broadly spread third wave. The growing case counts seem to be exacerbating shortages of PPE that have plagued the country’s pandemic response since its earliest stages.

Midwestern partners

In response, Direct Relief has continued to offer PPE such as masks, face shields, and gowns – along with pulse oximeters and contactless thermometers – to partners working on the frontlines of Covid-19’s third wave.

Since November 3, Direct Relief has dispatched 575 shipments, valued at more than $4.3 million, to health care partners in the United States, including FQHCs, clinics, hospitals, and others.

Last week, several large shipments went out to partners in Idaho, South Dakota, and Montana, containing PPE and other vital medical supplies.

Recipients included St. Luke’s Hospital in Boise, Idaho; a number of Avera Health System locations in South Dakota; Bonner General Hospital in Sandpoint, Idaho; and Marias Medical Center in Shelby, Montana.

This week, Direct Relief is preparing to send Covid-19 support packages containing PPE, thermometers, and pulse oximeters to more than 50 Midwestern partners.

On the ground

Health care organization throughout the upper Midwest described facilities hard-hit by the pandemic and facing shortages of staff and PPE, as the weather cooled and outdoor testing and screening became more difficult.

Chippewa Valley Free Clinic in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, relies on volunteer turnout. A clinic representative described a volunteer return rate of only 25% – while still seeing approximately 75% of the patients it had served pre-Covid. Under those circumstances, remaining workers needed sufficient protective gear – dental workers particularly – to allow them to continue to see patients, keeping them out of emergency rooms to avoid strain on local health systems.

Open Aid Alliance in Missoula, Montana, described trying to keep an open-air setting warm enough for a largely unhoused population, many of whom needed supplies of masks to protect them as Covid-19 levels rose in the state. “Many of our folks are unhoused and have trouble keeping masks for long periods/laundering them, so we provide masks,” a representative explained.

Providing testing to over 500 patients per week, OneWorld Community Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska expressed concern about serving patients during the cold Midwestern winter months. Pulse oximeters, they reported, were particularly effective for high-risk patients, allowing the health center to monitor them as outpatient cases – again, reducing strain on the health system.

Other partners reported that receiving PPE from Direct Relief was allowing them to provide emergency, preventative, and routine primary, dental, and behavioral health care to their patients. Several said that the supplies of PPE were helping them to keep exposure rates low at their facilities.

“Our organization has been able to maintain a lower positivity rate than our state, in part because of that,” said a representative from Proteus, Inc. in Des Moines, Iowa.

The months ahead

Since the pandemic’s beginning earlier this year, Direct Relief has sent more than 24,000 shipments containing more than 43 million masks, 7 million gloves, and millions of other PPE items to more than 1,900 health facilities around the world. The organization has also provided more than $36 million in emergency operating grants.

As Covid-19’s third wave in the United States continues, and the winter months present new challenges to health care providers across the country, Direct Relief stands ready to respond with medication, supplies, and funding.

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