PPE Shortage Crisis Continues at Most Hospitals, Survey Shows

Damian McNamara

December 04, 2020

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

A majority of hospitals and healthcare facilities surveyed report operating according to "crisis standards of care" as they struggle to provide sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE).

For example, in a national survey, 73% of 1083 infection prevention experts said respirator shortages related to care for patients with COVID-19 drove their facility to move beyond conventional standards of care. Furthermore, 69% of facilities are using crisis standards of care (CSC) to provide masks, and 76% are apportioning face shields or eye protection.

Almost 76% of respondents who report reusing respirators said their facility allows them to use each respirator either five times or as many times as possible before replacement; 74% allow similar reuse of masks.

Although the majority of institutions remain in this crisis mode, many healthcare providers have better access to PPE than they did in the spring 2020, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) noted in its latest national survey.

"It is disheartening to see our healthcare system strained and implementing PPE crisis standards of care more than eight months into the pandemic," APIC President Connie Steed, MSN, RN, said in a December 3 news release.

The association surveyed experts online between October 22 and November 5. The survey was timed to gauge the extent of resource shortages as COVID-19 cases increase and the 2020–2021 flu season begins.

"Many of us on the front lines are waiting for the other shoe to drop. With the upcoming flu season, we implore people to do what they can to keep safe, protect our healthcare personnel, and lessen the strain on our healthcare system," Steed said.

COVID-19 Linked to More Infections, Too

APIC also asked infection prevention specialists about changes in healthcare-associated infection rates since the onset of the pandemic. The experts reported an almost 28% increase in central line–associated bloodstream infections and 21% more catheter-associated urinary tract infections. They also reported an 18% rise in ventilator-associated pneumonia or ventilator-associated events compared with before the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is the second PPE survey the APIC has conducted during the pandemic. The organization first reported a dire situation in March. For example, the initial survey found that 48% of facilities were almost out or were out of respirators used to care for patients with COVID-19.

Damian McNamara is a staff journalist based in Miami. He covers a wide range of medical specialties, including infectious diseases, gastroenterology and neurology. Follow Damian on Twitter: @MedReporter.

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