An Irish group in New York is donating thousands of masks, gloves and protective suits to frontline hospital staff because some of them have to reuse the protective equipment they have and store in brown paper bags.

The lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) in New York has prompted the group - Irish America in Support of Health Care Workers - to collect gloves, suits and masks from construction companies and the general public for the city's frontline hospital staff.

This comes as some staff in New York hospitals need to store PPE in brown paper bags and reuse them.

New York state, one of the hardest states hit by the virus in the US, has 150,000 cases and 6,268 deaths from the virus.

In response to PPE shortages, Irish America in Support of Health Care workers formed a meitheal – a group where a community comes together to help each other out – and collected thousands of PPE items and donated them to hospitals in New York.

Sophie Colgan - one of the organisers - said the idea of the meitheal is to get PPE from companies and individuals.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Ms Colgan said: "There are thousands of construction companies who have protective equipment like N95 masks and protective suits and head gear.

"What we are trying to do is reach out to all of those companies to see if they can donate them to hospital staff." 

Last week, Irish America in Support of Health Care Workers put a call out for public support.

Three Cork sisters who are living in New York, responded by collecting 16,000 gloves and other items from 35 businesses in the city.

Caroline, Ciara and Cassie Wilkins ran a social media campaign called #gloveloveforfrontline and donated the gloves to frontline medical staff through the meitheal initiative.

Brian McCabe, Chairman of the Irish America in Support of Health Care Workers, lauded them for their efforts but stressed many businesses and people will need support after the pandemic passes.

His group has set up a GoFundMe page to help struggling people and businesses in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Mr McCabe, a former policeman, is responsible for safety and security operations for a number of hospitals in New York and said things are not easy in the city.

"This is everywhere right now. The numbers are rising but there is also a human toll. There is stress. There is anxiety," said Mr McCabe.

He has been involved with the removal of Covid-19 victims to temporary morgues as hospitals expand to deal with rising numbers of sick people.

"It is something that must be done with dignity but we have had to expand the facilities as these numbers have risen. It is a challenge. There is a toll that the workers face," said Mr McCabe.

"As the numbers rise we are very cognisant of the necessity that each of those human beings is treated with dignity - both while they are receiving care and if some of them don't make it afterwards as well," he added.

As a former commanding officer of the Manhattan South Homicide Squad he said the Covid-19 pandemic dwarfed any prevision disasters in New York.

"I worked in a homicide squad during the most violent period of New York city’s history. I thought that post career I'd take a nice job in health care - and help people - and I find myself in healthcare in the midst of a pandemic," he said.

"Although 9-11 affected many, particularly in our community, and everybody knows somebody who was affected personally through loss, this truly has just affected every single person in our city, in our state," he said.

"This dwarfs anything that I have ever encountered in my career." 

Efforts by Mr McCabe and the Irish America in Support of Health Care Workers group to collect PPE and distribute it to hospital staff were welcomed by one New York nurse.

Kate Hallissey, whose husband is from Tralee in Co Kerry, said the PPE was welcome as it is rationed in the hospital in which she works.

"It is scary. We don't often say that we are scared as medical providers but this is a virus that is very virulent and really it is devastating for families," she said.

"Patients are dying alone. Families are not allowed to visit them, and nurses are spread very thin," she said.

The hospital in which she works is dealing with Covid-19 cases.

"Our cafeteria has become a Covid ICU. We have beds that were built as pop-ups in the hallways and the atriums. We have patients in closets and in hallways," said Ms Hallissey.

She agreed the events prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic in her hospital are unlike anything she had ever seen in her nine-year career.

"It has never been like this. I never felt that we didn’t have proper supplies or proper equipment and unfortunately it is rationed," she said.

"Our supplies we get daily, we have to reuse them. Things that I would normally use once, I am responsible for putting in a brown paper bag and to keep all day," she said.

"That just goes to show the severity of this virus and how spread thin we are here in New York."