April 2, 2020 / 6:11 PM / 2 months ago

Staff at a NY hospital put protective gear in outdoor trash can after handling bodies

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Staff at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in New York City were seen disposing of their gowns and caps and other protective wear in a sidewalk trash can on Thursday after wheeling bodies out of the hospital and loading them into a refrigerated truck.

A healthcare worker removes and discards personal protective equipment (PPE) into a trash can after wheeling the bodies of deceased people outside the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 2, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The hospital has been treating patients with the highly infectious new virus. Hospital workers typically wear protective gear when handling patients suffering from the respiratory disease. Reuters was unable to confirm that the bodies were those of coronavirus victims.

The hospital is in Brooklyn. The outbreak has killed nearly 1,400 New York City residents.

Hospital administrators could not be reached for comment after multiple emails and calls to the public affairs office and main phone line. Operator Beatrice Pereira said, “They said that there’s no one available right now, that everyone here is busy saving lives.”

A Reuters photographer saw four workers wearing protective gowns, caps, face masks and goggles rolling hospital beds with deceased patients covered with white sheets outside of the building.

After placing the bodies inside a refrigerated truck, they removed their gowns and other protective gear and put them into a nearby outdoor trash can and wheeled the beds back inside.

A homeless person had been going through the trash can an hour earlier, the Reuters photographer said. Reuters could not determine what was in the trash can at the time.

A spokesman for New York City’s health department said he was not able to comment on what Reuters had seen but said each hospital should have procedures outlined for donning and doffing protective gear. The New York State Department of Health did not respond to requests for comment.

Faced with a dire shortage of protective gear, federal and local health officials are advising healthcare workers to reuse and clean their disposable masks and gloves when possible, rather than throwing them away after each patient.

According to World Health Organization guidance for treating coronavirus patients, personal protective equipment should be “discarded in an appropriate waste container after use.”

Reporting by Brendan McDermid; Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Ross Colvin and Howard Goller

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