LEWISTON – Like many hospitals across the nation, Central Maine Medical Center is trying to stretch what may be a limited supply of protective gear such as the masks that doctors and nurses often wear.

“We are conserving our resources carefully because, like other Maine hospitals, we know that there are nationwide supply chain issues,” said Kate Carlisle, the hospital’s director of public relations and community affairs.

One medical professional at the hospital told the Sun Journal on Friday it is “entering a ration phase” for personal protective equipment, leading to worries that there may not be enough masks, gloves, gowns and other gear to keep personnel safe if the coronavirus pandemic worsens.

By late Friday, Carlisle said, Central Maine Healthcare had seen four patients in its system who tested positive for the virus, one at Bridgton Hospital, one at Maine Urgent Care in Topsham, and two at CMMC. It expects to see more in the coming days.

Across the nation, hospitals are reporting a supply shortage because global demand for masks in particular is at a record high. It doesn’t help that many ordinary, fearful people have snatched some up as well despite no clear need for them.

The hospital employee, who asked to remain anonymous because they don’t have authority to speak with the media, said masks are especially critical because it remains hazy whether the fast-spreading virus can be spread only by droplets or if may linger in the air for a time.

The employee said there is widespread concern that without enough protective equipment, the problems associated with treating COVID-19 patients could be exacerbated.

One possible solution mentioned by the worker is for local businesses, schools, colleges and tinkerers to try to add to the supply of needed equipment.

She said, for instance, that perhaps the Sazerac Co. that makes whiskey in Lewiston could begin churning out hand sanitizer pretty swiftly in place of some of its existing production.

Amy Preskie, public relations manager for the company, said Friday it “is investigating avenues in regards to producing hand sanitizer” and promised to share any plans once they are in place.

The hospital worker said this is a moment for resourceful, self-reliant folks to show off their creative side and figure out ways to churn out masks in time to make a difference.

Mainers are “kind of made for this moment,” the worker said.

But it’s also an opportunity for big companies and major institutions to show their mettle, the worker said, and provide expertise and resources that could make a huge difference for the safety and success of the work medical professionals are going to be undertaking if the pandemic plays out as expected.

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