Defining COVID-19 Terms: Personal Protective Equipment

April 1, 2020


Elizabeth (Izzy) Montgomery, MPA
Policy Analyst

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In this installment in our series explaining key terms and phrases used by public health officials in discussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, we look at the term “personal protective equipment.”

Personal protective equipment, or PPE, is defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as “protective clothing, helmets, gloves, face shields, goggles, facemasks and/or respirators or other equipment designed to protect the wearer from injury or the spread of infection or illness.” This helpful infographic from the University of Nebraska Medical Center provides a visual overview of PPE, along with proper methods to prepare, put on, and remove the equipment.

PPE is vital in preventing the spread of infection to and from healthcare workers and their patients. With the spread of COVID-19, health systems in the U.S. and around the world have been overwhelmed by demand for PPE. In some areas, this demand has created shortages, leaving healthcare workers vulnerable when caring for COVID-19-positive patients.

In response to these shortages, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released guidance on strategies to optimize healthcare facilities’ supplies of PPE and other equipment. These include crisis or alternate strategies that are “not commensurate with contemporary U.S. standards of care,” for consideration when PPE (such as N-95 respirators) are running low or unavailable.

At the federal level, President Donald Trump recently activated the Defense Preproduction Act to manufacture additional PPE, along with sending out facemasks and other equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile to states. From the Strategic National Stockpile, Arkansas has received approximately 27,800 N-95 respirators, for example. Additional efforts are underway to secure more PPE for healthcare workers. Gov. Asa Hutchinson, with approval from the Arkansas General Assembly, has authorized the release of $75 million in funding for the procurement of PPE.

You can read more about the pandemic on ACHI’s COVID-19 page.

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