Carter PPE

Department of Corrections Commissioner Rob Carter holds up a face shield that inmates of the Miami Correctional Facility will begin manufacturing to protect first responders throughout the state.

INDIANAPOLIS — As the demand for personal protective equipment such as gowns and masks increases, manufacturers have struggled to keep up and state governments have turned to private citizens to fill the gap.

“There is no state in the United States that has enough supplies to do it the way we did it six months ago,” Indiana Health Commissioner Kris Box said. “We are all adapting to the supplies that we have with conserving (and) with sharing.”

Box said that the state has worked to redirect its federal allotment of supplies to hospitals and county health departments in need. Some hospitals reported donations of masks and deferred their shipment.

“Everybody’s reusing and sharing,” Box said.

The state anticipates the peak of coronavirus cases, based on computer modeling, to hit the state around mid-to-late April, according to Box.

Companies throughout the state, including General Motors in Kokomo, have responded by pivoting manufacturing toward ventilators, equipment in short supply in epicenters of the disease.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, in a Friday press conference, repeated his praise of private companies across the state that have changed production to help address gaps in supply.

The state on Saturday reported 1,232 positive cases of the coronavirus. A total of 31 Hoosiers have died from the virus.

“You just heard the numbers. You realize that we don’t see the peak yet. These numbers are compounding,” Holcomb said. “This is like a snowball that is rolling downhill, getting bigger and bigger.”

Inmates at the Miami Correctional Facility have changed their manufacturing to produce gowns and masks specifically for first responders, whose work doesn’t stop during a pandemic.

“We’ve got several facilities where we are able to manufacture things. We started looking at hand sanitizer,” said Rob Carter, commissioner of the Department of Corrections. “I was brought into the conversation by Gov. Holcomb and hospital professionals here in Indiana to discuss (their) needs.”

Carter said that 200 gowns had been produced Friday, noting that inmates could potentially scale up production if provided enough material. With mask material, expected Monday, the correctional facility could produce about 200 daily.

A Holcomb press release Friday added that the facility also produced 650 12-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer daily.

“I appreciate that going to first responders so that they’re not taking up valuable PPEs from hospitals,” Holcomb said at the press conference. “We want the cup to runneth over in terms of supplies. We don’t want our public or our care centers to think we’re letting up.”

Citing agreements with individual hospitals, state officials declined to release any specific numbers, which some neighboring states have provided, regarding Intensive Care Unit beds.

But officials said they would consider releasing that information on a regional basis so individual hospitals couldn’t be identified.

“We can look toward that,” Holcomb said. “We’ll make sure the public knows as we approach the surge we know is coming.”

Box warned that the “raw numbers” from other states might not provide an accurate picture, since hospitals can adjust their wings, floors or building to accommodate patients.

“We’re not seeing that big uptick in EMS calls for patients (with respiratory failure),” Box said. “We’re still in the calm before the storm.”

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