Coronavirus Social: PPE Arguments and Pandemic Prophecies

Liz Neporent

April 11, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's  Coronavirus Resource Center.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) was very much on the minds of social media users this week, whether it was how shortages risk safety or a brainstorm for a new DIY mask design. On LinkedIn, Bill Gates reminded us that he's been prophesizing about a pandemic for a long time.

An Argument About Care vs Caregiver Safety

An argument about PPE availability for medical staff at a California hospital has spilled out onto Twitter.

It started with an email from a program director at the hospital, telling healthcare providers they should treat patients with COVID-19 regardless of whether they have access to proper PPE.

"We cannot remove the obligation to respond to and manage decompensating or unstable patients if you choose to be involved in patient care. Every faculty I have surveyed agrees that they would save a dying patient regardless of PPE availability, COVID status, or physician risk status," said a screenshot of an email posted by Amy Lasky, MD, an Ob/Gyn at the same hospital.

"Hey @UCSFMedicine, is this what you tell your residents — to go into rooms without PPE and risk their own lives or else be placed on temporary leave of absence? UNACCEPTABLE AND UNETHICAL," Lasky tweeted.

Lasky asked the Twitter community to share the post widely and to contact UCSF to demand basic safety guidelines. This touched off a heated Tweet storm, with some users agreeing with her and others taking the side of the program director. A user who identified herself as a Canadian medical resident said she's been told by her hospital to treat patients regardless of PPE availability or she risked liability or disciplinary action. 

Eventually, the hospital weighed in with a screenshot of a follow-up letter sent to its staff, underscoring their commitment to staff safety.

"We deeply apologize for this message and the anxiety it caused…we will continue to work tirelessly to support residents in these difficult times," the screenshot read in part.

The long exchange highlights the difficult decisions hospital staff are making while balancing the short supply of essential safety equipment with the onslaught of COVID patients.

MacGyvered Masks Go Viral

There is nothing like a crisis to inspire ingenuity. With hashtags such as #PPEForMe, #PPEShortage and #Masks4All trending steadily for weeks, users have answered the call to protect themselves and others from coronavirus with some clever mask designs.

A college student has come up with a particularly inspired idea, a mask for people who are hearing impaired. Ashley Lawrence, a deaf education major at Eastern Kentucky University, created a PPE with a see through window around the mouth so people who are deaf or hard of hearing can lip-read and see the facial expressions of the wearer.

Like the majority of homemade and mass printed PPE, Lawrence's creation has not been tested for safety or its effectiveness to guard against coronavirus. But with the CDC now recommending all Americans wear masks in public, demand is skyrocketing. 

Bill Gates Shares His Views on the COVID Pandemic

Bill Gates popped up on a LinkedIn video recently to talk about his views on coronavirus. 

"The speed of response makes all the difference because the virus has shown exponential growth…" Gates told the audience of over 400,000 viewers who left well over 20,000 comments on the post.

The Microsoft cofounder has been warning about the possibility of a "once-in-a-century" pandemic for years, penning an editorial entitled "Innovation for Pandemics" in the New England Journal of Medicine back in 2018. In February of this year he wrote a follow-up in the same journal. (Microsoft owns the LinkedIn social network.)

"In any crisis, leaders have two equally important responsibilities: solve the immediate problem and keep it from happening again. The Covid-19 pandemic is a case in point," he wrote in his February essay, "Responding to Covid-19 — A Once-in-a-Century Pandemic?". On LinkedIn, the billionaire indicated that the US had not done all it could have done to stop the quick spread of the disease. 

Liz Neporent is Medscape's executive editor of social media and community. She has previously worked at ABC News National as well as other major news outlets. She's based in New York City and can be reached at or @lizzyfit on Twitter.

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