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Increasingly desperate pleas from health care workers and public authorities for donations of face masks and other protective gear are an unsettling sign of just how unprepared American hospitals are for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Alison Cooke, assistant chief of hospital medicine for Kaiser Permanente-San Francisco, warned recently that her institution had less than a week’s supply of medical masks for doctors and nurses. “If you have any masks or safety goggles at home, please consider giving them to your nurse and doctor neighbors,” she wrote on the neighborhood social networking site Nextdoor.

On Friday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged nonessential medical offices and other businesses to donate their protective gear

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