COVID-19: How a PPE shortage could cripple the healthcare system...

VIA MDlinx 
Tom Castles

Healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic are telling a grim story—a story of death and a scarcity of lifesaving medical supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE). Across traditional news outlets and social media platforms, physicians and other medical personnel are sharing off-the-books tips for creative solutions amidst the lack of protective gear and supplies. For instance, some healthcare workers have taken to wearing trash bags in the absence of hospital gowns. It’s clear that during a time when supplies are needed most, our healthcare workers don’t have enough to protect themselves and provide patients with the best possible care.

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In some areas across the United States, particularly rural regions, responders are rationing PPE to conserve supplies due to the national shortage. What’s more, projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) have shown that even if we continue strong social-distancing measures, we’ll face a severe shortage of hospital beds and ventilators. The challenge is compounded by the fact that when healthcare workers are not adequately supplied, they face increased risk of infection. Thus, physicians and nurses might soon be in short supply, too.

It’s an uncomfortable truth that raises an important and difficult question: How does this supply shortage impact the ability to fight the COVID-19 pandemic?

Consequences of the PPE shortage

Rationing PPE goes against well-established protocols designed to improve infection control. But, for many healthcare workers, it’s the best available option amid the current shortage. Still, it brings increased infection risk and other avoidable consequences:

Increased healthcare worker infections.

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Asia and Europe offer a glimpse into how COVID-19 takes a tremendous toll on healthcare workers. More than 3,000 physicians were infected in China, and more than twice as many were infected in Italy. Roughly 14% of novel coronavirus infections in Spain were attributed to 5,400 healthcare workers. Stories emerge daily suggesting the United States is on a similar path, but states lack key data that could clarify the exact number of infected medical professionals in the country.

When appropriately trained doctors and nurses fall sick, healthcare systems look for support from retired and specialty physicians, raising questions about the quality and capacity of care.

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