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Maryland opens new state portal to connect buyers, sellers of protective gear during coronavirus pandemic

Maryland officials have launched a new online portal where those in need of protective gear such as masks and gloves can find local sellers, aiding the hunt for critical items in short supply at hospitals and elsewhere during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Larry Hogan has identified securing adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, or PPE, as a pillar to his plan to lift distancing measures and reopen the state. The others are hospital capacity as well as adequate testing and contact tracing for those possibly infected with the COVID-19 illness.

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“One of the biggest challenges Maryland and our nation have faced in battling coronavirus has been ensuring we have a steady supply of PPE for our health care workers, first responders, and essential employees,” said Hogan said in a statement. “This portal offers a one-stop-shop where manufacturers of PPE and other essential items can connect with the buyers that need these items the most and help us address critical supply chain demand.”

Hospitals and other facilities have their own supply chains, but they have been stretched to the limit by the pandemic. There are numerous reports of nurses wearing then cleaning single-use masks repeatedly and doctors avoiding going bedside to preserve gear.

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even issued guidance on how to preserve and reuse protective gear.

The Maryland Manufacturing Network Supplier Portal is operated by the Maryland Department of Commerce and the Maryland Manufacturing Extension Partnership. The sales won’t happen on the website, but the buyers and sellers can find each other and make a deal offline, officials said.

The sellers are Maryland firms, including manufacturers that have received government grants to increase or pivot production to protective gear.

Separately, the state has been buying and distributing protective equipment. Since March 27, officials report that a state task force has secured: 4.5 million KN95 masks, 3.5 million gloves, 1.1 million face shields, 600,000 N95 masks, 150,000 gowns, 47,000 gallons of hand sanitizer and 5,000 infared thermometers.

It’s not clear how much has been distributed and used, or how much remains in state warehouses.

Hopsitals are tracking the gear to make sure it goes where it’s most needed, but they go through supplies quickly dealing with the contagious respiratory illness. LifeBridge Health operates several hospitals and reports, for example, that it averages 4,500 N95 masks per week, 575,000 gloves per week and 45,000 isolation gowns per week.

The portal can help fill more gaps, state officials said.

“We believe this will provide a key resource to connect buyers that are in need of critical items with the Maryland manufacturers that are capable of producing them,” said Michael Kelleher, executive director of the state’s manufacturing extension partnership, in a statement.

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