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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota lawmakers heard pleas from nurses on the front lines in the COVID-19 battle Tuesday.

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They say they still don’t have enough personal protective equipment, or PPE.

It was the first hearing of a new legislative committee designed to monitor the state’s pandemic crisis.

Minnesota has more than 17,000 positive COVID-19 cases — and more than 1,900 of those cases are health care workers.

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Nurses are fearful that one of their own could lose their life to the virus.

Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, described caring for a fellow nurse with COVID-19.

“Praying every moment that I took care of this person that they would make it out alive,” Turner said. “Thank god they did.”

But someday, a nurse won’t recover.

(credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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“I dread the day that I have to stand in front of the media to report out the first death of a Minnesota nurse because they weren’t properly protected at the bedside,” Turner said.

Nurse after nurse told Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman and other legislators that they are using the same PPE over and over.

“This would’ve been something that would have gotten us disciplined in the past and potentially lose our license,” Turner said.

Some legislators, including Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, voiced frustration that despite some $400 million from the legislature, and a state dashboard that shows an adequate supply, nurses still don’t have what they need.

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“There is not a storeroom of PPE at these hospitals that the management is hiding from you, I’m certain, right? So they don’t have it,” Daudt said. “If they had it, they would be giving it to you. So where is it?”

Mary Krinkie, vice president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, says that some shipments of PPE have been diverted, and that hospitals have improvised the best they can — even buying rain ponchos when gowns were in short supply.

“According to the experts, a rain poncho … actually protects employees pretty darn well,” Krinkie said. “Nobody had really thought of using a rain poncho instead of a gown.”

State officials were asked about PPE on Tuesday’s briefing call. Their response is that the allocation is up to individual hospitals, but they acknowledged that standards of reusing PPE is being adjusted in part because of supply chain problems, and in part because of the enormous quantities of PPE this deadly respiratory virus requires.

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Esme Murphy