We are hearing enough daily reports about the shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) that you do not need me to remind you. Instead, I want to give you a non-Corona virus situation to help understand just how important PPE really is. What is scary, just this morning, it was revealed that the Center For Disease Control (CDC) last week created a crisis strategy for PPE. In other words, the CDC is modifying its already minimized requirements for PPE, and in a crisis like we have now, even lowering those standards. I have not read these changes in great detail yet, so I will not overstep my boundary of this post. Instead, like I said, I have a story to tell you about PPE. And hopefully after, you will understand in simpler terms, just what our health care workers are up against, and why this is important to them.
First, to understand, personal protective equipment, is just that, personal (for you), protective equipment (worn to protect you and possibly others).
I worked in medical research for a number of years. Quite rewarding actually to have an avenue to give back to what saved my life. Working in medical research, not just wearing PPE was important, but the proper levels of PPE. And there are different levels depending on how serious a pathogen (germ, bacteria, virus, bad stuff) you were dealing with.
Your dentist wears PPE, usually a mask, and definitely gloves. Most doctors wear gloves to examine patients. Scientists and researchers are no different. The thing about PPE, it is supposed to be once and done. You wear PPE to prevent you from being exposed, or exposing anyone else. When you are done with it, you throw it away. You do not reuse it. That is why most PPE comes individually wrapped. It is not meant to be used over and over. But what happens when it does get used again, and again, and again, and again? Here is that story.
I had a co-worker, who shall remain nameless, who did just that. He had several work areas to maintain. Of course, that would mean that he had to wear a different set of PPE in each area. Well, “gowning up” or putting on PPE takes time (booties, gown, mask, head bonnet, two pair of gloves, face shield if necessary), as does “ungowning.” That co-worker had no issue, wearing the same PPE from area to area, and as long as he did not get caught, no harm, no foul. And by getting caught, I mean, not just by management, but by cross-contaminating from one area to the next. This alone is disturbing enough. But it gets worse, much worse. His laziness not only covered the various work areas, but extended for his entire work week. That is right, he wore the same equipment to every area he entered, but wore it all week. You might want to put down anything you might be snacking on or drinking for the next paragraph.
Some of us, including me, would discover what our co-worker was doing. For the average co-worker who did not give a shit, some of us did, realizing the potential for compromising any studies. Remember, research, looking for cures, looking for vaccines, these things all require acting appropriately.
Upon inspection, and removal of this PPE that had been discovered, was the evidence that he was doing just as I have written. With the exception of his gloves, he had reused everything, all week, in every area. There was “soiled” evidence on everything. On one particular piece of PPE, was enough to make me vomit, his mask. The one piece that would go against his lips, cover his nose was filthy, actually crusted with residue from the environment.
Forget the person risk to himself, he was carrying all of this from area to area, putting every study at risk.
That is why, when I hear today, that we have health care workers and responders pleading for PPE, being forced to wear the same PPE for days, even work without, now having the CDC “allowing” reuse of certain PPE with one of the most contagious viruses we have seen in a long time, if ever, I just want to hang my head in despair. But I cannot. Because I have so many friends that work in health care, and I know that they are speaking up for what they need. And they are risking their own lives, and the lives of their loved ones at home, compromised from reusing PPE.
This is a disgrace. This PPE shortage is something that a 3rd world country experiences. But in times of companies operating under the guise of Six Sigma, simply put, a method to learn to do more with less, to increase profit margins. And that means, many, if not most, have been caught with lower inventories of PPE. Manufacturers probably cut back manufacturing due to lower demand. And in the firestorm of an emergency like Corona Virus, here we are cut flatfooted, scrambling to find resources, rush production, and in some case, average citizens trying to do their part, making home-made PPE just so that our health care workers can have some sort of “protection.”
Our healthcare workers deserve better. We deserve better. All of our lives depend on it.