Get Protective Equipment For Healthcare Workers Now



Throughout history, when America was in crisis, ordinary people rallied to help each other. We stood in line for hours to donate blood after 9/11. We Safe neighbors stranded after Hurricane Harvey. And today, in the midst of a global pandemic, Americans are staying home and turning on sewing machines to make fabric masks for frontline healthcare providers due to the shortage of medical equipment. appropriate personal protection, or PPE.

As nurses and public health researchers with expertise in pandemic preparedness and decades of experience caring for patients, communities and populations, we know this situation is untenable. Enough is enough. The federal government must immediately provide PPE that meets the same exacting standards that healthcare providers have always used to care for patients with highly infectious diseases.

Recent CDC recommendations that healthcare providers use cloth masks, even scarves, if proper PPE is not available, has prompted an army of sewers across the country to make cloth masks. Some hospitals and providers salute these efforts, rationalize that “something is better than nothing” and using cloth masks would preserve PPE.

It is scandalous that the lack of preparation of our country, especially the slow deployment of the national stockpile containing expired items, got us to this point.


The use of sheet masks puts healthcare providers, their patients and the community at risk and can exacerbate transmission of the coronavirus. Research indicates that cloth masks almost allow 97 percent of virus particles to be transmitted through them. Using sheet masks is like using gloves with holes – they will not stop the deadly transmission of germs.

Standards frequently relax in response to emerging crises. However, resorting to ‘last resort’ options, like homemade masks, when we have yet to exhaust alternative supply chains for PPE is short-sighted.

Only the federal government, with the help of industry, has the capacity to provide access to PPE that meets strict standards to prevent the transmission of airborne agents such as COVID-19. States have a limited ability to procure the equipment necessary for a robust and sustained response to this global pandemic. President Donald Trump recently expanded the Defense Production Act order, first issued in March, to speed up production of PPE and other necessary medical equipment. But like a large part of the US response to this global pandemic, it is too little, too late. Inventories are low and out of date.

The President’s reluctance to use the Defense Production Act and the lack of a coordinated response from the federal government have caused a bidding war between states and no assurance that supplies are prioritized for areas most in need. The sad reality is that states are obligated to fulfill the role of the federal government in coordinating the manufacture, supply and distribution of PPE and other medical equipment. This situation is indefensible and will lead to unnecessary illness and death and prolong the crisis.

Our appeal to an anxious public is this: Put our collective power behind emails and daily appeals to federal lawmakers to demand the strong federal response that is desperately needed. Encourage donations of PPE from private caches. Let’s continue to wash our hands, avoid touching our faces, and practice vigilant social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and the stress on our healthcare system and workforce.

Healthcare workers face risks to their health on a daily basis, but it is intolerable that they work without proper PPE, abandoned by the very government systems that should protect them. It is appalling and inefficient to expect Americans on their sewing machines to solve this critical and dangerous shortage of PPE. On behalf of frontline healthcare workers – and their patients – many which we will tragically lose – we demand that the federal government act immediately.

Alexandra Garcia and Karen Johnson are Professors of Nursing at the University of Texas at Austin and Public Voice Fellows with the Draft opinion. Whitney Thurman is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin and Jonas Policy Scholar at the American Academy of Nursing.


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