The shortage of personal protective equipment is particularly acute. Medical workers are supposed to be using N95 masks, which reduce their exposure by filtering out at least 95 percent of particles in the air. But on Wednesday, President Trump said his administration had ordered 500 million of these masks after receiving complaints about widespread shortages. To cope with the burgeoning coronavirus crisis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told nurses to use bandanas and scarves as last-resort masks. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, meanwhile, have access to N95 masks as they apprehend immigrants during a national pandemic.

The escalating crisis led Margaux Snider to go public. She is the medical director of emergency medicine at Arroyo Grande Community Hospital, in California. “As of today, I have had it,” she said. “I am willing to be on the record. We need supplies, and we need the public to take this seriously. I’m willing to lose my job before my life.” She wanted to put her name to that call, whatever the personal cost. “I am deeply disillusioned with a country that is unwilling to protect the people that stand between them and death, risking our lives seemingly without concern,” she said. She cited the recent news about two emergency-room doctors, in New Jersey and Washington State, who contracted COVID-19 and are now in critical condition…

She said community hospitals are struggling to hold on to N95 masks and powered-air purifying respirator hoods, the white suits that look like they came out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. One community hospital in central California, Snider said, has only a single box of masks for the entire emergency department. That’s 30 masks, for a department that usually sees more than 30,000 patients a year.