Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Hospitals around the country are running out of medical masks and other protective gear, and health care workers are taking desperate steps to protect themselves from exposure to the novel coronavirus.

Why it matters: Keeping doctors, nurses and other providers healthy and able to work is central to America's ability to manage the crush of patients expected to flood hospitals in coming days.

  • "If you can’t protect your health care workforce, you’re not going to have a health care workforce, and you’re not going to have a health care system," Harvard's Ashish Jha told me.

What's new: We've been sounding the alarm about medical masks for awhile, but this disaster scenario is becoming reality in some places, especially New York and Washington.

  • Hospitals are considering shutting their doors, doctors are seeing patients while wearing dangerously inadequate protective gear, and volunteers are cobbling together makeshift face shields, the New York Times reports.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has posted strategies for what to do without masks, including using bandanas and scarves — which have unknown utility.

What we're watching: President Trump has invoked the Defense Protection Act, which gives the federal government extraordinary manufacturing powers, but has yet to use it.

  • "We need the president to marshal the DPA, the Defense Production Act, to get all of these materials produced on a war-time footing quickly, dramatically, and in large number," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said yesterday.
  • Trump struck a different tone. "We have helped out, and there are right now millions of masks being made.  But this is really for the local governments, governors, and people within the state, depending on the way they divided it up," he said yesterday.

The bottom line: We're only at the beginning of our fight against the coronavirus, and our most important line of defense — health care workers — increasingly don't have the tools they need. That's not good.

Go deeper

Pence's campaign appearances in Arizona and Florida delayed due to coronavirus

Vice President Mike Pence at a White House coronavirus task force briefing on June 26. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence's planned campaign appearances in Arizona and Florida have been postponed due to rising novel coronavirus infections in both states, NBC News first reported and Axios has confirmed.

Why it matters: NIAID director Anthony Fauci expressed concern this week about coronavirus surges in Arizona, Texas and Florida.

Jun 27, 2020 - Health

Pandemic shrinks planned family sizes

A pregnant woman wearing a surgical mask. Photo: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A new report shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has led a third of U.S. women surveyed to report that they want to delay childbearing or have fewer children.

Why it matters: Natural disasters and economic recessions often lead to a decline in fertility rates, and COVID-19 has aspects of both. With the pandemic and lockdown policies already putting enormous pressure on working parents, reproduction could take a major hit.

Jun 27, 2020 - World

Schools in Italy scheduled to reopen on Sept. 14

Students wearing face masks wait to enter their High School Graduation Exams outside the Liceo Classico Massimo D'Azeglio on June 17 in Turin, Italy. Photo: Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

Schools across Italy are scheduled to reopen starting September 14, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Education Minister Lucia Azzolina announced on Friday.

Why it matters: Parents in Italy started returning to work in early May, per the New York Times, as the country gradually reopened after weathering one of the worst early coronavirus outbreaks in the world.