Concerns of a global shortage in protective medical equipment could impact the United States in "just a matter of time," Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, chief clinical officer of Providence Health, said Monday.
Health officials are warning that protective gear is becoming a scare commodity amid the coronavirus outbreak.
"As long as China is continuing to absorb all the masks, basically, that are being produced, we know that eventually our need is going to outstrip what the world supply chain is managing at the moment," Compton-Phillips explained on CNBC's special "Outbreak" report.
On Friday, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned of a chronic shortage of gowns, masks, gloves and other protective equipment used by medical professionals to help stave off the epidemic. Officials in China are sounding the alarm, urging that hospitals make "reasonable use" of personal protection supplies to prevent "excessive and disorderly use."
"That's why we're looking at what are all the other alternatives we can [make use of] to make sure that we can preserve the masks that we do have to use for the best and highest purpose," Compton-Phillips said.
Compton-Phillips oversees the Providence hospital system across seven states, including Providence Regional Medical Center, which is the Washington state hospital where the first person in the U.S. to be diagnosed with the novel virus was treated.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, however, does maintain a stockpile of protective supplies in case of shortage. China has boosted its medical mask purchases from companies that provide equipment to hospitals around the world as the country grapples with the epidemic, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration head Scott Gottlieb, appearing alongside Compton-Phillips, expressed hope that American hospitals will be in good position to mitigate a potential supply shortage. Although the virus was first discovered in China in December and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency at the end of January, the risk remains low
"The response to this really is a local endeavor and I think we need to look at ways we can backstop local health departments right now and hospitals that are likely to become referral centers if there are outbreaks in major cities," Gottlieb said. "We have time to prepare. We got an early warning here with what happened in China and we should be taking those steps."
There have been more than 42,700 confirmed cases around the globe as of Monday, but a large majority of those diagnosed have been in China. Nearly 42,300 have been diagnosed in mainland China and 1,011 have died of the disease in the country, according to Chinese state media.