Medical oxygen supplies strained in communities with surges of COVID-19

“The concern is if we can’t get tanks to people, they cannot leave the hospital; they may not be able to get into the hospital,” said medical oxygen supplier Michael Carr.

Some communities across the country where COVID-19 cases are surging are running low on oxygen needed to treat patients. In Southern California, emergency responders have been asked to conserve supplies as hospitals run out of oxygen tanks.

Michael Carr is the owner of Pur Air Products based in North Kansas City which supplies medical oxygen to hospitals and healthcare providers in ten states. He says there is plenty of oxygen; the problem is a shortage of cylinders used to transport it.

“The concern is if we can’t get tanks to people then they start to stack up. They cannot leave the hospital; they may not be able to get into the hospital, but it slows down the process and it puts people at risk.”

At his warehouse, dozens of oxygen tanks are filled within minutes as staff work to keep up with demand.

“We generally keep three to four thousand tanks on hand ready to go in any given day,” said Carr. “I’ll tell you, that’s gone. Those tanks are in circulation. The concern is, if it continues can we meet that need?”

KMBC checked with hospitals across the metro. They say they have sufficient oxygen supplies. Carr hopes to help keep it that way.

“If our rates of infection don’t get higher then I think we can weather the storm. If we start spiraling out of control and people don’t watch what they are doing the yea, the real concern is that we will get into a situation where we are going to have true rationing of healthcare.”

Oxygen is critical for treating seriously ill patients, especially those suffering from COVID-19. The World Health Organization explained the urgency in addressing the global bottleneck in oxygen supplies in a recent bulletin.

“It has been estimated that around one in five people with COVID-19 suffers respiratory distress sufficient to require oxygen therapy,” says Dr Priyanka Relan, a COVID-19 clinical management expert at WHO. “Without that therapy, COVID-19 can be fatal.”

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