The Best Kinds of PPE for Health Care Workers in 2021
As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the world, people who had never had to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) at work before began engaging in new activities that health care providers know well — wearing items that help keep them safe from pathogens.
However, health care workers wear PPE that is much more extensive than what an everyday person uses. Here’s a look at the best types of PPE to use this year, plus a brief overview of how some aid packages associated with the novel coronavirus tacked PPE shortages and related budget constraints.
Federal Aid Helps but Does Not Address All Needs
United States legislators passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in late March 2020. In addition to providing support such as business grants for struggling enterprises and stimulus checks for qualifying Americans, the act helped some organizations pay for PPE.
For example, a U.S. Department of Education blog post stipulated that schools could use allocated funds to pay for items that helped them maintain safe operations. In the case of a medical school, such supplies would include PPE. There were also enhanced funding initiatives at the state and national levels.
Despite those efforts, PPE shortages persist around the United States and elsewhere in the world. Some emergency room nurses say they have no choice but to rely on single-use products more than once, such as through several shifts.
N95 Respirator Masks and Eye Protection Provide the Ideal Combo
Some of the early advice from health authorities suggested that N95 respirator and surgical masks were equally effective. However, an extensive study found that medical workers got the most protection if they wore N95 masks versus surgical ones.
Moreover, face shields or goggles used along with masks to provide eye protection helped health care workers stay even safer, the results indicated. Even so, researchers cautioned that PPE could not eliminate a person’s likelihood of contracting the virus. It just reduces that risk.
Gowns Protect the Body, but People Must Choose Carefully
Medical gowns help protect wearers from infectious pathogens by covering large portions of the body. However, simply donning one does not necessarily provide the desired outcome. For example, there are four gown levels, with the fourth providing the most protection for high-risk situations. Moreover, people can buy either disposable or reusable gowns.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also provides detailed guidance on choosing gowns or coveralls for medical settings. For example, it points out that material and seam barrier properties play significant roles in how well protective clothing serves its purpose.
When medical workers purchase or select gowns, they must always consider the risks faced and the types of care provided. Someone performing major surgery likely needs a more protective gown than someone handing a simple blood draw or administering a vaccination.
Gloves Are Essential for Providers of Care
Something that often gets overlooked about PPE is the total effect of items worn together. The totality of PPE elements combined with other control measures is what gets the best results.
Hand hygiene helps show that reality in practice. Medical experts recommend that anyone caring for someone with COVID-19 wear gloves. That advice extends to someone taking care of a loved one at home and professionals who may oversee dozens of patients in a day.
However, authorities agree that gloves never replace hand-washing measures. Instead, they supplement them. Moreover, a person could accidentally negate the protection gloves normally provide if they do not understand proper usage techniques.
Some people wear gloves unnecessarily, such as in a grocery store with hand sanitizer dispensers and disinfecting wipes readily available. When that happens, it may create a shortage for medical workers.
No Universally Accepted Best Type
This overview shows that people should never assume a particular type of PPE is the best kind for every scenario. Even though N95 masks are the most recommended type for medical workers, there may still be instances where people get ample protection with less robust kinds.
Perhaps a medical student working in a doctor’s office is in the middle of their first week on the job and mainly handling paperwork in the office. Maybe they only come in contact with a couple of patients per day for a few minutes, primarily observing rather than providing direct care. If so, wearing a surgical mask may suffice.
Taking the time to choose the best PPE for the task provides optimal protection. It also boosts the chances of everyone who needs it having enough.