The role of PPE in the fight against COVID-19

29th April 2020

As the country’s health care system continues to struggle to accommodate the rising number of patients who have been infected by the novel coronavirus, all of those who are on the frontlines in the fight against the invisible enemy are doing everything they can to keep themselves safe while treating their patients and preventing the spread of the virus at the same time. How do they do this? By wearing personal protective equipment, practising social distancing, and frequent handwashing.

What is PPE?

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is comprised of masks, goggles, gloves, hair cover, and gowns. Among these items, masks, gloves, and gowns are by far the most commonly used articles of PPE in a hospital environment. They protect medical workers against bacterial or viral infection from respiratory secretions, body fluids, blood, and excretions from suspected patients as well as those who are infected with COVID-19.

The functions of PPE

Hair covers help maintain sterility in a work area. It also helps protect the hair and scalp of its wearer from contamination.

The gloves used are medical grade and are commonly made of polyurethane, nitrile, polyvinyl chloride, or natural rubber latex.

Masks or N95 respirators help reduce the exposure of the wearer to airborne particles, from large droplets to small aerosols.

Face shields provide protection against splatters and splashes of fluid borne pathogens from suspected and infected coronavirus patients. Face shields, which protect the entire face, are crucial when the wearer is working in close proximity to patients or other individuals in a crowded setting.

The synthetic suits allow its wearer to move and treat their patients freely without worrying out the accidental transfer of bacteria and viruses.

A full body suit is made of air and fluid-resistant plastic fiber that makes an effective gear against possible exposure to infectious agents. However, the suit must be removed carefully to avoid exposure to pathogens on the outer suit.

Common questions about PPE

Before the coronavirus outbreak, the public didn’t give much attention to PPE. The general public typically saw PPE as something for hospitals only. COVID-19 has changed people’s view of personal protective equipment. Many people are interested in having PPE available for their own safety in public spaces.

Many are wondering if a single-use, disposable PPE can be reused. While most personal protective equipment is generally designed to be disposable, many of our N95 and N99 mask users have let us know they were able to re-use the masks with good success. 

Can surgical masks be reused? We sell surgical masks by the 50. They provide better protection than not wearing anything, and prevent you from contaminating others if you are sick. They are cheap and plenty enough to not need to reuse them, however, if you are in a situation where you have no other choice -- gently washing them and reusing them is better than not wearing any protection at all. This is assuming that the structural integrity of the mask is maintained. If a washing has caused the mask to rip, or fabrics to deteriorate, it is better to use a fresh mask.

You should never share masks with others, only reuse washed ones you have already worn.

Coronavirus vaccine trials begin

UK scientists at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute announced that they would be starting coronavirus vaccine trials on humans. The government warned the public they should still follow social distancing protocols, proper handwashing, and the use of personal protective equipment when necessary until a treatment or vaccine is found. Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer of England, noted that the likelihood of developing a vaccine in the next calendar year remains “incredibly small.”

Sarah Gilbert, Oxford University professor of vaccinology is 80% confident that the vaccine that they’re developing would work. The ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine candidate is made from a non-lethal chimpanzee virus. It’s been given to more than 320 people and the trial has shown that the vaccine is safe and well-tolerated.

The vaccine is made from a weakened version of a common cold virus (known as an adenovirus) from chimpanzees that has been modified so it cannot grow in humans.

The United Kingdom remains on lockdown over fears of spreading the coronavirus. Since March 23, the public has been restricted from leaving their houses except for important reasons.

The government kicked off the next phase of its strategy to combat the virus and it involves testing, tracking, and tracing. The number of new coronavirus in the country has started to plateau and the government, together with scientists and health experts, are working closely together to find a way to bring the number of new cases down.

For now, with a vaccine still nowhere in sight, the government promises to test 100,000 people for the novel coronavirus per day by the end of April. Although the actual figures released for daily testing was a far cry from what the government has promised, the government still expects to see “an exponential increase” in the coming days. The government says that it is making “good progress” in meeting its targeted daily number of COVID-19 tests.

Until a cure or vaccine is found, wearing personal protective equipment in public spaces will help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Wear PPE such as disposable gloves to prevent getting the virus from contaminated surfaces. Disinfect surfaces to kill COVID-19. Wear face masks to prevent breathing the virus in (or out if you are already infected).