Here’s another measure of the unexpected toll and cost to Hawaii of the COVID-19 pandemic: the high burn rate for personal protection equipment, known as PPE.
During the week of Oct. 5, every single day Hawaii’s health care facilities used and discarded:
>> 15,000 procedure masks.
>> 3,000 N95 masks.
>> 12,000 medical gowns.
>> 250,000 pairs of gloves.
>> 400 face shields.
>> 180 goggles.
>> 4,000 hair covers.
>> 6,000 shoe covers.
At a House briefing Tuesday, Rep. Joy San Buenaventura asked Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, to clarify whether Hawaii’s burn rate statistics that he presented for personal protection equipment represented the entire week of Oct. 5 or just for a single day.
“Those are actually daily burn rates,” Raethel replied. “Those are real numbers. This is what our facilities are going through right now.”
Hawaii has 28 hospitals and 44 nursing facilities. Raethel said they’re using PPE at a rate of five to 10 times pre-COVID-19 levels.
“Those numbers are scary, but that is the reality of what our facilities are doing to ensure that they are providing the best possible protection for our patients,” Raethel said.
During his presentation to the House Health and Human Services and Homeless committees, Raethel said the consumption of PPE “has had a dramatic impact on our nursing homes and hospitals.”
The costs are part of $19.4 million being spent on testing, staffing and PPE. Raethel did not provide a specific cost estimate just for PPE.
There are supply-chain issues and competition among mainland communities for supplies, especially for Hawaii nursing homes that are competing with the rest of the country for testing kits linked to two testing machines provided by the federal government.
Hawaii’s nursing homes received an original supply of only one to two weeks of testing kits.
“The problem is that every nursing home in the country is looking for exactly the same testing kits because these same two machines were distributed across the whole country and there is insufficient supply to meet the demand,” Raethel said. “While there is money available, the money is being burned at a rapid rate.”
All of Hawaii’s nursing homes are in compliance when it comes to testing procedures, such as when an outbreak occurs, Raethel said.
But if they lack testing kits, they have to buy them at clinical laboratories, “which are three to four times the price,” he said. “It is expensive to do this testing.”
House Minority Leader state Rep. Gene Ward (R, Hawaii Kai-Kalama Valley) grew visibly agitated when he pressed Raethel on why the state was not using a so-called “spit-in-cup test” called ASSURE-19 which was developed by Honolulu’s Oceanit Laboratories in partnership with The Queen’s Medical Center and the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine.
The test is currently estimated to cost $20.
Ward said the Oceanit test is “days away from getting FDA approval” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Raethel responded that “Rep. Ward mentioned that it’s not FDA-approved at this point in time, which means we cannot use them in our facilities at this point in time.”
The new Oceanit kit is proposed to be similar in price to testing kits currently in use, Raethel said.
But with the massive volume of tests needed across the islands, Raethel said, “whether it’s that or the so-called spit test that Rep. Ward mentioned, you’re still talking about $100,000 a week just for Oahu nursing home facilities. It sounds like it’s only $20 a test. … Even at $20 a test, those costs add up very, very quickly.”