Box by box, Texas physicians are getting the protective gear they need to safely care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to the Texas Medical Association’s (TMA’s) and county medical societies’ distribution of millions of state-acquired masks.
“I magically got a large box waiting for me at the office, which was a wonderful surprise,” said Manvinder Kainth, MD, a direct primary care physician in Plano who recently received hundreds of face masks. “When you open up a box and see at least a dozen boxes of N95s, it was like Christmas. It was great.”
“It was like manna from Heaven,” said Brad Holland, MD, a Waco otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist) and vice speaker of TMA’s policymaking body, of the supply he received. “These things are real, they’re good quality, they’re coming at a reliable rate, and we’re back in the game taking care of patients.”
Drs. Kainth and Holland were two of many doctors to recently send mask wish lists to TMA. Each week, TMA staff members fill and ship orders from Texas physicians seeking some of the N95, KN95, and surgical masks the association received from the state. TMA has shipped more than 2 million masks thus far.
In September, TMA and several county medical societies across Texas received truckloads of protective masks to distribute to doctors. TMA got slightly more than 6 million masks, stuffed into 13 tractor-trailers. The Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Governor’s Supply Chain Strike Force purchased and recently sent a total of more than 23 million masks to TMA and the county medical societies to relay to physicians.
Since March, physicians reported difficulties acquiring personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to care for patients in person. Life-protecting masks, face shields, gloves, and gowns were scarce.
“Once the pandemic hit, unfortunately everyone was scrambling to get N95s,” said Dr. Kainth, who had a few masks early on. “I actually shared them with hospital physicians who had absolutely no protection whatsoever, who did not have any N95s at all. I actually shipped a couple to New York because those doctors had [only] soiled N95s that were literally disintegrating in their hands,” she said. “It had been haphazard at best.”
Supply began to improve as the U.S. government started distributing PPE to state agencies. Texas government leaders mobilized a plan to redistribute the protective garb first to hospitals and other larger health care systems, and eventually – at TMA’s urging – to private physicians.
“Having adequate PPE is essential to protect our staff,” said anesthesiologist Brad Butler, MD, a frontline physician in Abilene. “When this began, we were initially tasked to be the primary intubators, placing breathing tubes for people with known COVID cases,” he said. Giving anesthesia to COVID patients is high-risk too, he added. His hospital supplies enough masks so he and the other physicians and care team members haven’t had to go without, though some occasionally reused masks (following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reuse guidelines). Nonetheless, he said getting his own mask supply from TMA is reassuring.
“It was by the skin of our teeth,” was how Dr. Holland described his practice early in the pandemic. “What became the limiting factor was the PPE. If we hadn’t gotten it about when we did, we wouldn’t be here anymore.”
“You just cannot even be safe whatsoever if you’re not taking PPE precautions,” said Dr. Holland. “If you don’t have that, you really can’t see patients both for the patients’ health and for your health.”
Dr. Kainth also said masks are necessary. “The science doesn’t lie. We know how this is transmitted, we know a lot of it is transmitted when you have no signs or symptoms, and it’s smarter to be cautious than to not, because it’s not that hard to be cautious,” she said.
“This just further reiterates the importance of having the PPE and using good hygiene and safety protocols because they do work, because we know we’re exposed to people with the virus but have been able to keep our staff healthy,” said Dr. Butler.
TMA and participating county medical societies across the state will continue to distribute the masks to Texas physicians at no cost (TMA asks reimbursement for shipping). “When times got tough, fellow physicians found ways to help each other out and solve major problems,” said Dr. Holland.
TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 53,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 110 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.