STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
How severe is the shortage of protective gear facing health care workers, and what, if anything, is being done about it? Doctors and nurses across this country report a lack of basic equipment, most notably proper masks. NPR's Allison Aubrey has been speaking with some of those in hospitals, and she's on the line. Allison, good morning.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: OK, so the Trump administration says that more masks are being sent to the hardest-hit areas, like New York City and Washington state. They say production is ramping up. That sounds good. But are people seeing the difference in hospitals?
AUBREY: Well, among the people I've spoken to, not yet. I spoke to one doctor, Shuhan He. He's an ER doc at Mass General. That's in Boston. And he says what he is seeing and hearing from others around the country is that there are not decent supplies of protective equipment - this includes masks, gowns, gloves - and given how contagious this virus is, health care workers cannot work safely without these protections. He told me that when he goes to work today, he does not know if he'll have the protection he needs.
SHUHAN HE: I'm staring at a N95 that I had for multiple shifts and to keep washing it over and over again. And so even though they be coming in the future, I'm concerned about the here and now. And frankly, it's a life-or-death situation for me, right?
INSKEEP: OK. He says personal protective equipment - there may be personal protective equipment coming in the future, but he's - he's referring to that N95 mask.
AUBREY: That's right.
INSKEEP: That's the gold standard. That's what there's a shortage of. Is he having to wear the same mask over and over again, which is not the way they're supposed to be used?
AUBREY: That's right. That's exactly what he's saying. This is not how it's supposed to work. Under normal circumstances, this could be considered a breach of protocol. So he has formed a group with other doctors and people in medicine who are on the front lines here in this pandemic. It's called Get Us PPE, for personal protective equipment. They are calling on the Trump administration to boost supplies.
I also spoke to the president of the American Medical Association, Patrice Harris. She's calling on the Trump administration to activate the Defense Production Act to mobilize business community to manufacture more equipment. She says there is no question that demand is greater than supply at this moment. She says it's not just masks; it's also ventilators, testing supplies. She says this is urgent.
PATRICE HARRIS: It's one thing to talk about doing the right thing, but the metric at the AMA is results. And when we see enough equipment and tests and ventilators actually on the ground, that's when we will say, OK. But until then, we will continue to raise the alarm.
AUBREY: So she's saying, you know, enough, enough with the promises; let's see action. I'll say, yesterday, Attorney General Barr said the Justice Department will investigate cases of hoarding, of price gouging of scarce medical equipment.
INSKEEP: Although that just underlines that there really is a shortage here. Allison Aubrey, while I have you, I want to ask about...
INSKEEP: ...Another bit of news. A new reported symptom of COVID-19, a new way that people might be able to tell if they actually have this virus or not - what is it?
AUBREY: The loss of smell or taste. That sounds kind of odd, right?
AUBREY: Yeah. A leading group of ear, nose and throat doctors says a lack of smell or taste should be added to the list of symptoms to screen for COVID-19. This group says loss of smell has been seen in patients that test positive for the virus. They point to anecdotal evidence from China and Europe.
I spoke to one doctor in New Jersey who says, in some cases, this loss of smell or taste is the only symptom. In other cases, it comes with some of the key symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, dry cough, shortness of breath. These ear, nose and throat docs say people who suddenly lose their sense of smell or taste may warrant testing and self-isolation.
INSKEEP: Allison, thanks for the insights.
AUBREY: Thank you very much.
INSKEEP: It's NPR's Allison Aubrey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.