2 departments close at Wolfson Hospital as staff diagnosed; medics ration masks
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Hospital cleaners said forced to buy own masks

2 departments close at Wolfson Hospital as staff diagnosed; medics ration masks

Hospitals suffer mass quarantining of medical staff after patients, fellow staffers found to be carrying coronavirus; Jerusalem nurse says she only has 1 mask she’s saving

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Nurses at Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, on February 19, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Nurses at Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, on February 19, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Two internal medicine departments at Holon’s Wolfson Hospital were closed on Thursday after members of the medical staff were found to be carrying the virus. At least 20 workers are in home quarantine.

A Thursday report by Israel Radio said fifty-five medical workers from an unnamed hospital in central Israel have gone into quarantine after a patient was found to be carrying the virus.

At least 21 of the 573 people in Israel diagnosed with the coronavirus are medical staff. Over 2,600 medical workers are said to be in self-quarantine due to fears that they had been exposed to the virus which causes the COVID-19 disease.

Hospitals are so short of masks that staff are rationing them, The Times of Israel has learned.

One nurse from Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem told The Times of Israel, “I’ve been given one mask. I’m keeping it locked up for when I will really need it.”

In the meantime, she is doing her regular shifts without protection.

Workers in the hospital’s emergency department were also reportedly without basic protective gear until Wednesday, when one medical staff member was discovered to have caught the virus.

Illustrative: Doctors and nurses treat a patient at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon. ( Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Meanwhile, on Twitter, a nurse calling herself Angina, from an unidentified hospital, revealed Thursday that she had fielded calls all night from staff members in different departments asking for masks. She had some masks brought from the hospital storeroom. “When those run out, I don’t know what I’ll do,” she said.

In one response, another nurse tweeted, “With us, the instruction is not to wear masks in the departments where nobody is suspected [of having coronavirus]. Why? The official reason is not to shock the patients. Absurd.”

Angina replied, “At our work, there’s no instruction to the staff to wear masks. From Sunday, we decided that we’d had enough of waiting for an order. There’s a limit to how much you can close your eyes to what’s happening.”

She added, “During the night shift, I worked with cleaners who were going around with masks which they’d bought themselves, because the hospital doesn’t have masks to give them for some reason. Each mask is single-use only and cost them NIS 70 ($19). The cleaners are at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to salaries at the hospital. That means that out of [their] eight work hours, two of them were to pay for the mask, not their food and rent.”

She continued, “They’re clearly not the only ones buying masks. Lots of the staff are going around with masks that they bought privately. Because it’s better to be wise than right, no? Better to be protected at your own cost rather than to be in danger because they were not able to protect you.

“What happens the day the staff says, ‘better to be wise and not to come to work’ because they’re not being protected?”

On Wednesday, a Channel 13 report said doctors, nurses and other hospital employees had testified about minimal protective gear at work.

“I get one mask for a shift,” said one. “If it’s ripped, I don’t get another.” Another said, “No gloves, no masks, no bathrobes and no disposable bed covers.”

Prof Zion Hagay, chairman of the Israeli Medical Association. (Twitter)

The chairman of the Israel Medical Association, Professor Zion Hagay, called on the health system to “reorganize work in the hospitals immediately in order to protect the medical staff. The approach should be to work in small groups to reduce exposure and to ensure protection in all departments for all the staff.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi last week to exempt Israel from an export ban on protective masks and the raw materials used to make medicines, Israeli television reported Friday.

Itamar Grotto, deputy director-general of the Health Ministry, said that Modi agreed to allow the export of materials for medicines to Israel, but there was no decision yet on the masks.

According to the report, the Health Ministry requested the Israeli embassy in New Delhi to ask Indian officials to allow hundreds of thousands of protective masks to be sent to Israel, due to a shortage in the country.

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