State universities to provide ventilators, masks in coronavirus fight

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A medical worker in protective gear helps a potential COVID-19 patient with paperwork at a Phoebe Putney Health System drive-through testing site in Albany on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. HYOSUB SHIN / HYOSUB.SHIN@AJC.COM

By Scott Trubey

The University System of Georgia is providing dozens of ventilators and hundreds of thousands of pieces of personal protective equipment from its 26 colleges and universities to help health workers fighting the coronavirus outbreak.

The state’s public colleges and universities announced Monday that they will work with Gov. Brian Kemp’s office, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) and the state’s emergency management agency to distribute the supplies. The equipment includes 38 ventilators, nearly 20,000 surgical and N95 respirator masks and more than 375,000 gloves.

The fresh supplies come as state leaders and health systems have scoured the country searching for personal protective equipment and ventilators to handle waves of COVID-19 patients and ones expected in the weeks ahead as the virus continues to spread.

Health systems have confronted shortages of coronavirus tests and vital protective gear, such as N95 respirators masks, face shields and protective gowns. In Albany, the Phoebe Putney Health System have had employees and volunteers sew cloth masks to cover their N95 respirators to extend the masks’ lifespans, and even posted templates online for volunteers to sew masks from home.

Furloughed theater workers, apparel companies and even mattress-makers have shifted production to make protective gear for frontline workers.

In a news release, the university system said public safety and emergency management crews at all 26 public institutions are inventorying their supplies, which typically are used by campus maintenance, researchers, health clinics and nursing programs. DPH and the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA) will then identify where in the state products are needed.

“Across our state, Georgians are working tirelessly to coordinate efforts in our fight against COVID-19,” Kemp said in the release. “I applaud the University System of Georgia for taking action to keep our health care workforce and communities safe and healthy in the weeks ahead. We are all in this fight together.”

Goods identified so far also include medical gowns and other coverings for hair and shoes, goggles and face shields, sanitizers and thermometers.

The university system, which includes the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia State, shifted from on-campus instruction to online learning in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“The University System of Georgia and our 26 institutions will continue to do all we can to support our healthcare workers at the frontlines of this fight,” Chancellor Steve Wrigley said in the release.

The release also said the system also is working with the state to expand testing capacity for the coronavirus outbreak.

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