A recent survey found that U.S. hospitals with active COVID-19 cases are burning through their personal protective equipment much more rapidly than anyone expected.

The latest survey conducted by Premier (PINC -0.26%), which operates a leading hospital-supply purchasing network, showed that active COVID-19 cases increase a hospital's burn rate for N95 masks 17-fold. The average medical facility responding to its survey had 23 days worth of N95 masks, but those with active COVID-19 patients averaged just three days' worth.

Doctor in a surgical mask.

Image source: Getty Images.

The nation's largest hospital operators -- HCA Healthcare (HCA -0.01%), Tenet Healthcare (THC -0.21%), and Community Health Systems (CYH 1.12%) -- are right to make respiratory protection a priority, but N95 masks aren't the only item they need to stock up on. Caring for coronavirus patients also seriously boosts the burn rates for surgical masks, isolation gowns, face shields, and viral swabs.

Around 58% of the 1,591 hospitals surveyed didn't have any COVID-19 positive patients yet. Among this group, the average hospital had enough face shields for 3.7 days under normal conditions. Among other uses, face shields are crucial protective gear that healthcare providers use while inserting and removing breathing tubes. Premier found hospitals with active COVID-19 cases are burning through face shields 8.6 times faster than they normally do.

Unfortunately, hospitals probably won't be able to rely on emergency shipments of protective gear from the federal government. On Wednesday, we learned the national stockpile is nearly depleted.