The shelves are already empty, and those who need personal preventive equipment (PPE) the most will be feeling the effects. Fear and panic are causing members of the public to purchase and stockpile masks and other PPE supplies, and people are paying top dollar for them.
Late last week the World Health Organization (WHO) released Interim Guidance for the Rational use of personal protective equipment for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Based on the available evidence, the COVID-19 virus is transmitted between people through close contact and droplets, not by airborne transmission. The people most at risk of infection are those who are in close contact with a COVID-19 patient or who care for COVID-19 patients (WHO, February 27, 2020).
Even the U.S. Surgeon General is urging the public to stop buying face masks
. As clinicians, we know what lies ahead if there is a shortage of appropriate PPE, but let’s break down the facts so we can educate those around us. Here’s what we know:
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- Coronavirus is spread through contact and droplets, not airborne transmission.
- Particulate respirators, including N95 masks, are indicated to protect against airborne transmission of infection.
- Proper use of N95 masks requires fit testing.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the use of N95 masks by health care workers at the “highest risk of contracting or experiencing complications of infection.”
- In addition to health care workers, the use of proper face masks is essential for those directly caring for someone in close settings, including homes, and immunocompromised persons.
- By depleting supplies, those directly caring for patients with infectious disease – including COVID-19 – will be at risk for infection themselves and can contribute to its spread.
- Wearing masks unnecessarily can contribute to a false sense of security, causing lapses in other measures, such as hand washing, which has shown time and time again to be the most effective method of decreasing infectious disease risk and spread.
COVID-19: What Nurses Need to Know about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Remember – and remind others – about the most important measures to prevent the spread of any infectious disease: