While it is unequivocally true that the COVID-19 pandemic has effected nearly every strata of society, perhaps the most alarming crisis to emerge is the difficulty health care providers have encountered in their efforts to obtain necessary personal protective equipment, or PPE. PPE refers to the equipment healthcare professionals need to provide care, this includes masks, gowns, gloves, and face shields. The protective equipment serves as a crucial barrier and defense against the novel coronavirus— without access to PPE healthcare workers are left in a dangerous and vulnerable situation. Thus reinforcing why it is absolutely crucial for adequate PPE to be provided, and moreover warns of the dire consequences that can arise when a shortage occurs.
In the early stages of the pandemic, the healthcare industry was met with a surge in demand for PPE, yet the supply was significantly lower, leading to a substantial shortage. Some nurses and doctors found themselves being forced to re-wear the vital N-95 masks for weeks at a time and some even resorted to using trash bags as gowns. Though healthcare providers are no longer in as precarious of a situation, the shortage of PPE continues to be an obstacle as coronavirus cases continue to rise. The shortage is caused by a multitude of reasons, but a difference that continues to increase the demand is the reopening of society. Medical professionals are no longer the only individuals in need of PPE, with the vast majority of society reopening, the demand for PPE from ordinary citizens is on the rise too. The growing demand and limited supply raise the question: what can be done?
A significant barrier to improving access to PPE is the supply chain. At its current state, the supply chain is largely disorganized, with limited coordination between companies and the federal government. Some have pointed to this disorganization as a root cause of the PPE shortage and have in turn suggested that the government and private companies should work together to create a more centralized distribution effort. Another issue encountered with the PPE shortage is the inability for US manufacturers to create more equipment, at the current state factories are producing at their maximum capacity. This has led to an increased demand for foreign imports, yet these companies have significantly increased the cost of the equipment. There have been calls to regulate the price surges to ensure PPE is available at a lower cost. A combination of these efforts would help to mitigate the shortage crisis and provide significant relief to healthcare workers.
The shortage of PPE is a serious issue that must be promptly addressed. In order for front line health providers to continue in their fight against the pandemic, it is necessary that coordination efforts are implemented.