Sonny Hastings, Maready Medical in East Mesa

Sonny Hastings, business manager at Maready Medical in East Mesa, had COVID-19 test kits ready last week for up to 200 people who qualified by taking a prescreening to determine whether they had symptoms of the virus infection. 

Mesa and Phoenix have joined forces to order four million masks to protect firefighters and police officers against COVID-19.

Fire Chief Mary Cameli told Mesa City Council last week that firefighters are using the masks at a higher rate than before the outbreak and that they tapping into a supply of 9,000 expired masks still in storage. 

“They are being a little more cautious about it. Right now, we are using it way more than we ever have,’’ she said.

Last year, Mesa firefighters used 4,500 N95 masks, but already have used 2,500 this year, Cameli said. Less effective surgical masks are being used on patients when firefighters perceive a risk.

While the masks might be worn in response to more than one call, they are never used beyond one day, she said.

Mesa also received 100 masks over the weekend from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Cameli said, and more shipments are anticipated.

“All of us have the same needs. It’s really the PPE (personal protective equipment) supplies,’’ she said.

City Manager Chris Brady said the city expects to receive about 250,000 in two weeks. “That will set us up very nicely for the next couple of months,’’ Cameli said.

Brady said the mask shortage, which has reached crisis proportions nationally in states with a heavy COVID-19 outbreak, stems from federal officials failing to replenish supplies after the H1N1 flu pandemic of 2009.

While supply is the main issue, the department also got a great deal of $1 per mask, Smith said, amid reports of price gouging on such medical supplies.

In the meantime, Mesa police and firefighters also are using surgical masks, which provide less protection than the N95 masks.

Cameli said the surgical masks don’t block fine particles contained in mists sometimes emitted by patients on ventilators.

She said Mesa Fire and Medical also has 37 units equipped with ventilators, advanced life-saving devices that help patients struggling to breathe. 

The ventilators also were acquired from a federal grant 10 years ago, Cameli said, and Apache Junction and Queen Creek fire trucks are equipped with them as well.

If a crisis were to occur, Mesa Fire would turn over some of their ventilators and masks to hospitals, which are considered a higher priority in saving patients, she said.

Mesa Police Chief Ken Cost, who is in quarantine for 14 days after a trip to Spain, said that “several thousand’’ surgical masks have been issued to police officers.

Cost described the surgical masks as a “stopgap’’ until the N95 masks arrive. 

“They can use it for someone we’re contacting, someone in custody,’’ Cost said. “They can use it on themselves.’’

The temperatures of police officers and firefighters also are being checked regularly to guard against becoming ill or potentially spreading the virus to others, Cost and Cameli said.

Meanwhile, drive-thru testing locations made a limited debut.

Maready Medical, an east Mesa family practice, used telemedicine to qualify potential patients for COVID-19 tests, which are still in short supply. 

If the patient qualified, based upon typical COVID-19 symptoms such as a fever or a dry cough, they were given an appointment for a drive-thru test with a swab at Maready’s office at 4135 S. Power Road.

Banner Health used a similar combination of screening through telemedicine and drive-by tests at four locations, three in the Phoenix metro region and one in Tucson. 

Banner did not disclose the locations to avoid being overwhelmed by potential patients who do not qualify.

Maready directed patients to its website to sign up for the “virtual’’ screening, while Banner patients were told to call 1-844-549-1851 for the telemedicine screenings. 

Mesa Mayor John Giles said he was assured by Banner executives that the tests would be free for qualified patients.

Sonny Hastings, business manager for Maready, said he anticipated the demand for tests as the coronavirus spread.

Hastings said only medical offices with Sonora Quest testing facilities on site can offer the COVID-19 testing.

When a Sonora Quest representative offered Hastings a cache of tests, Hastings said he gladly accepted. He received 200 tests, but he said the ability to administer them hinges on having enough personal protection equipment to administer them so staffers are protected.

“We don’t have the capacity to test everyone who wants to be tested,’’ Hastings said. “We saw the need for the tests a few weeks ago.’’

“We’re concerned about it,’’ he said about the shortage of masks. “We will do the testing until we run out of one or the other.’’

If patients test negative, they will be advised to return to their regular routine but to stay home if they still feel sick because they have a different illness, Banner said in a press release. 

But if patients test positive, the reports are sent to state health officials. The patients are advi`sed to go into quarantine to avoid spreading the virus.

Banner also took the unusual step of soliciting donations of N95 masks, hand sanitizer and other medical supplies, including homemade masks.

Sonora Quest, the state’s largest testing service, also announced that it will start processing the tests at its Tempe lab rather than ship them to an affiliate in California.

Banner said it plans to expand the testing centers at a later date, and also launched two funds to collect donations at give.bannerhealth.com/coronavirus.

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