A year later, PPE’s history of shortages still has no end


It’s been a year since Covid-19 hit U.S. shores, but front-line workers are still struggling to find adequate protection. Despite increased production and drastic measures to expand supply, the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) has not disappeared. If anything, the situation has turned month confused as emergency rules are maintained, counterfeits dump the market and supplies don’t get where they are needed.

This story will begin at its beginning.


The extraordinary shortage of PPE has forced health administrators to make extraordinary decisions: hospitals, which need to keep supplies limited, reduce the frequency with which supplies are distributed, and strictly prioritize who gets the best supplies. published guidelines to divide workers into risk levels based on patient contact and the possibility of encountering Covid-19. Disposable N95 masks were stretched for days or even weeks, with officers CDC guidance released for mask reuse. As recently as February, 81% of nurses surveyed by National Nurses United reported masks and the file are still reused AP reported that “most” hospitals still offer one or fewer masks per employee per day.

A new industry quickly emerged around adapting mask policies for repeated use. Peter Tsai, the inventor of the N95 mask, came out of retirement to help the Project N95DECON develop ways to disinfect and reuse masks.

How to April 2020ECRI data showed that 48% of hospitals surveyed already used at least one method to disinfect masks for later use.

Stage assembly

When the pandemic began, the situation of PPE in America was already precarious. It had national storage has run out during the H1N1 crisis and not replaced, while American hospitals and other institutions relied excessively on foreign imports. China, hit by the pandemic months before it spread to the rest of the world, had taken two important actions: seeking help from other countries and curbing its own exports – leaving few available for import from America.

American production capacity was too weak to resume. Previously burned by unstable demand, manufacturers such as Prestige Ameritech simply were not prepared for the dire need facing the health system affected by a pandemic.

A resurgence of industry

The desperate need for PPE led to a resurgence of American production. Then-President Trump used the World War II era Defense Production Law to boost PPE manufacturing, a measure the Biden administration is prepared for continue. Many American companies from other industries pivoted to produce a wide variety of necessary products, from gowns to hand sanitizer.

The consequences

Despite the stabilization of production, hospitals are still rationing to ensure a constant supply of masks and to reduce costs. Scientists and front-line workers are expressing concern on current CDC supply and guidelines and hospital policies on who needs higher-level protective equipment.

To make matters worse, you also need to ask yourself if you can rely on the available PPE.

A flood of fakes

A rare one Umbrella USA has allowed the use of Chinese KN95 foreign masks here in the US, but that has opened the door counterfeiters i minor options. ECRI, an organization dedicated to monitoring health safety standards, found that up to 70% of the KN95 masks tested did not meet the minimum safety standards for use in a healthcare environment. Some imported masks came along with falsified National Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) approval documentation, fake registration numbers, or copied information from other products.

Government agencies work together to eliminate counterfeits more than 11 million confiscated in recent weeks. Healthcare providers should consult guides such as this of the FDA to identify legitimate manufacturers and this from CDC, try to filter out fakes. However, counterfeit shipments they still are making his way to the hospitals now.

Government action is helping to prevent counterfeiting from getting out of the hands of workers, but in other areas it can cause problems.

The big disconnect

It took time, but American manufacturers responded to the challenge. Now they have trouble selling them.

Although health care workers do not have enough PPE and the U.S. national strategic stock still does not reach the desired levels, exports are banned. has been modified to allow up to five million masks to leave the country each month.


Kaiser health news obtained a FEMA note on this change, which was sent less than two hours before Joe Biden took office. According to KHN, the note cites manufacturer Prestige Ameritech’s difficulties in finding buyers for its high-end breathing machines and says lifting this ban will allow American companies to continue their pandemic-accelerated manufacturing pace.

To defense groups like Get us PPE told KHN that he believes the current CDC guidelines, in particular the same pandemic-era emergency guidelines that allow for reuse and waiving requirements such as adjustment tests, allow hospitals and other employers to ask for less PPE and restrict who gets protection. High-end respirators are not yet recommended outside the healthcare field, even for people in closed, high-traffic environments, such as public transportation.

The domestic market is one mess. Smaller clinics and offices don’t know where to get verified PPE, while large storefronts like Amazon and Facebook prevent manufacturers from selling to the public. There is also a problem of cost, according to reports, more expensive American products fighting against the restored flow of cheaper imports.

The prospects

It is important to keep our healthcare workers safe and the influx of counterfeit products carries a real risk. With the emergency guidelines still in place and the political field in a state of flux, it is difficult to see exactly where the situation will go. Still, the message from front-line workers is clear: grab more N95 in the faces and do it fast.

Sean Marsala is a Philadelphia-based health writer, Pa. Passionate about technology, he often finds himself reading, surfing the Internet and exploring virtual worlds.

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