Is There Enough PPE for Everyone During This Pandemic?

Months have gone by since the WHO has declared COVID-19 as a pandemic and according to a poll conducted by Washington Post and Ipsos, the front-line medical workers are saying that they’re still not getting enough PPE to keep them safe from infection. Shortages of PPE, including surgical masks and even hand sanitizers, are being reported by as much as 40% of the medical workers. A more alarming report said that a significant portion of them have resorted to wearing the same masks for more than a day or re-using them.

This goes against protocols set by the CDC and the NIOSH but considering the dwindling or lack of supply of PPE, medical workers have no choice but to adapt. Why did we come to this point of desperation? COVID-19 is not the first pandemic level disease that has reached US soil. A few years prior we had a brush against EBOLA and COVID-19’s cousin, SARS. Years have passed and you would expect that improvements regarding the manufacturing and supply chain of PPEs have improved leaps and bounds yet here we are, still facing a shortage of the same equipment.

If there is an entity that had the power to prevent these shortages from happening, it would have been the government. At this point, we’re sure that you’ve already read a few articles explaining what the government did (or did not do) to put us in this rather precarious situation but nonetheless, for those who are just catching up, the government had months to mobilize whatever laws or political power they had to stock up on crucial PPE, masks, gowns, and any other related materials before the announcement of the first COVID-19 related death in the US soil.

Whatever the reason, one thing cannot be changed: America, along with most countries in the world, cannot ever be too prepared to handle a major disease outbreak. 

Before we talk about what must be done, we will discuss first how PPE is made and maybe this might help spur the innovative side for some people to help pitch in with their manufacturing.

Respirators, also known as N95 respirators, are a specialized type of mask designed that filters up to 95% of particles. They are among one of the more complicated types of PPE to make. Respirators are made with melt-blown fabric, which is produced by extruding polypropylene fibers one micron in diameter onto a conveyor. These layers bond as they cool to form the cloth. This cloth is layered with a needled prefiltration layer of nonwoven fabric, which is usually hot calendared and thick enough to be molded into the mask’s shape. Protective layers of nonwoven fabric then cover the mask’s inside and outside. Once masks are completed, they are sterilized. Some from each batch must then pass a series of tests, including flammability, breathing and splash resistance, particle filtration efficiency, and bacteria filtration efficiency.

Like N95 respirators, making surgical masks involves the use of polypropylene, and along with a textile material, they are fed from bobbins into machinery that cuts and ultrasonically welds it together. Surgical masks typically are made of 3-4 layers depending on the mask. The machine attaches other parts like the ear loops or metal strips before the masks are sterilized and packaged.

Face shields are simple PPE that consist of a visor, a lightweight plastic or metal frame, and a suspension system that attaches the shield to the head. They’re one of the most common PPEs that can be recreated using DIY methods. They’re generally worn over other PPE such as masks and goggles. Visors can be made up of plastics such as acetate the plastic is often given anti-glare, anti-fog, anti-static, or other coatings. The attached suspension systems can include elastic straps, Velcro, headbands, glasses-type temple bars, pin-lock, or ratchet systems.

Protective gowns exist in various forms. There is a set of gowns depending on the level of expected exposure to contamination. A gown could also be for multi-use or disposable. The raw material for this cloth is synthetic, typically polypropylene, polyester, polyethylene, or something similar. The properties of the material for specific use can change depending on the fiber type, the bonding process, and fabric finish. Sometimes these gowns combine nonwovens with plastic film or other materials that provide greater protection from liquids. Reusable gowns can be made from 100% cotton or polyester, as well as cotton/polyester blends. The fabric is tightly woven and sometimes pressed to improve its liquid resistance. In the battle of COVID-19, mostly single-use gowns are needed, and medical practitioners are often advised to dispose of their gowns after exposure to a contagious patient.

Medical (rubber) gloves are made by dipping clean ceramic or aluminum molds shaped like hands into calcium nitrate, a coagulant, and calcium carbonate, which helps the gloves slide off the forms. The forms then are dipped into liquid rubber, with the glove thickness determined by how long they’re in the tank. To reduce potential latex allergy symptoms in wearers, latex gloves are dipped in hot water and chlorine. Vulcanizing them makes them more elastic and tear resistant. Gloves are rinsed a second time and the cuffs are rolled, then they’re dipped into corn starch and dried. Either air jets or workers then remove the gloves, and they’re tumbled with hot air to get rid of excess powder. Finally, gloves are tested by filling them with air and water to make sure they’re free of defects. Depending on the level of testing, higher-performing batches are designated as medical gloves.

There’s still time to catch up

Right now, people just want to feel safe and with the way things are, and it’s hard to feel that way. The US has existing laws enabling the federal government to instruct factories to manufacture some of these essential goods. However, they are a bit hesitant about using this option. 

We are not sure if they’re waiting for some miracle to happen but unless they decide to do so, our medical workers will continue to work with the risk of exposing themselves to the virus, which in turn puts their family members or anyone they’re in contact with at-risk, or worse they may be added to the mortality census. 

If you’re interested in sourcing PPE, feel free to check out VegasN95. In this time of uncertainty, you can rely on VegasN95 to deliver your PPE needs.