SAN DIEGO, Calif. — A Shamokin native who left the area to become a nurse in California has taken to social media to warn residents in rural areas of the health effects of COVID-19 and speak out about the lack of personal protective equipment for medical staff across the country.

Tiffani Zalinski, a 2000 Shamokin Area High School graduate and registered nurse who has worked in critical care settings in San Diego, Calif., since 2009, takes umbrage with recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and those in rural communities, such as her hometown, who are downplaying the virus.

The CDC recently changed its guidelines on dealing with COVID-19 patients, saying surgical masks are acceptable in lieu of N95 masks, which are still used in intensive care units and during complicated procedures.

“In the United States, the N95 respirator has been a staple piece of equipment to protect healthcare workers from airborne pathogens since the incidence of tuberculosis surged in the 1980s with the AIDS epidemic,” said Zalinksi. “N95 masks grew out of the industrial sector in the 1950s, most notably coal mining, to protect our coal workers from black lung disease.”

Zalinski explained that respirator masks are designed to filter out 95% of very small particles.

“A typical virus, like COVID-19, however, is even smaller than that with a diameter ranging from .06 to .14 microns,” she said. “When you take in other factors of exposure, such as the length of time a healthcare worker is in close proximity to an infected patient, the average number or times a typical infected patient will generate airborne particles via coughing or sneezing and the number of procedures being performed that generate airborne particles from the droplet secretions of an infected patient, N95 masks have been proven to offer much more protection than one may think.”

Zalinski said that there are other forms of personal protective equipment that are more effective, including higher grade filtration masks, such as N100 or P100 respirators, powered air purifying respirators and hazmat suits with self-contained breathing apparatus.

“In an ideal world, every frontline worker would have access to this equipment and would have already undergone specialty-fit testing to ensure that the right equipment has been assigned on an individual basis,” she said. “Not all specialty equipment fits everyone in the same way, which is why these products come in various sizes.”

Zalinski, who has worked as a nurse in the recovery room at University of California San Diego Health since 2016, said a major issue across the globe, and in particular, the United States, is the lack of high-grade PPE supplies to adequately protect every member of the healthcare facility workforce.

“This has led to a dangerous rationing of supplies and potentially hazardous guidance by our top-level governing bodies and hospital administrators,” she said.

Zalinski has taken to social media to call attention to many of these matters, particularly the CDC’s interim guidance for COVID-19, which addresses the shortage of PPE.

“This interim guidance fails to conform to previous evidence-based practice guidelines from what we have learned from transmissible diseases up to this point,” she said. “They have recklessly loosened protective measures for frontline workers in order to address the shortcomings of inadequate preparation and insufficient stock of supplies.”

CDC guidance currently states, as of March 18, that “Face masks are an acceptable alternative when the supply chain of respirators can not meet the demand. When the supply chain is restored, facilities should return to use of respirators for patients with known for suspected COVID-19.”

Zalinski feels the recommendation is dangerous for medical personnel.

“We can’t always anticipate when someone will require an aerosol-generating procedure, nor are we certain exactly how and when airborne particles are being generated or how long they will remain suspended in the air,” she said.

Zalinski adamantly opposes the measures and calls for healthcare workers to address them in a united front.

“This treacherous CDC guidance is being used by our government officials and hospital administrators to justify putting us directly in harm’s way,” she said. “If healthcare workers don’t unite and react to this explicit negligence, we run the risk of becoming infected and then spreading the disease to other patients, coworkers and the public at large — the ramifications could be catastrophic.”

When it comes to potential solutions to these problems, Zalinski said it starts with healthcare workers standing up for what is right to protect themselves, their patients and the general public.

“We must adhere to the strictest infection-control policies, even as we navigate the tough challenges present in our economy,” she said. “I challenge our federal government to invoke the Defense Production Act of 1950 to mobilize resources within our country to contribute to the safety or our people. In my opinion, this could help stimulate the economy and provide the resources we need to combat this deadly pandemic.”

When asked about COVID-19 and how it could impact a community like Shamokin and the surrounding areas, she discussed the spread of the virus thus far.

“With regards to the severity of this disease, those in rural communities like Shamokin have been least affected so far.” she said. “Some might even question the reality of this crisis. As a nurse in one of the largest cities in America, I can tell you that population density and travel in-and-out of the community plays a large part in the spread of the virus. This is why places like New York City, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Diego, where I am a critical care nurse, are most affected and thus most educated on the disease process thus far.”

Zalinski said that it’s of paramount importance to use caution, take COVID-19 very seriously and listen to advice from healthcare professionals and local government.

“Regardless of your political views, viruses don’t discriminate,” she said. “Please heed the advice of your local officials: Stay home, practice social distancing and maintain personal hygiene — COVID-19 may not have affected you thus far, but believe me, it will.”

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