As the Covid-19 pandemic has spread across the globe, experts cite PPE shortages as a major contributor to death rates and the need for strict lockdown measures. PPE, or personal protective equipment, includes items such as medical gloves, masks, eye protection, gowns, aprons, and respirators. These items protect health care workers, who are in close proximity to the sickest patients, from disease. However, the shortage of necessary equipment has already contributed to sickness and death amongst this front-line group of workers.
PPE shortages both in the United States and worldwide have necessitated social distance measures intended to stem the tide of viral spread, preventing already ill-supplied hospitals and hospital workers from being further overwhelmed by patient volume and exposure. As the economic and social impact of these lockdown measures take their toll, governments both at home and abroad seek to lift restrictions as soon as possible. Without the needed PPE in place, however, many find themselves extending, rather than loosening, social distance measures.
As States Struggle to Reopen, PPE Shortages Hinder Progress
In the United States, while some states have begun to relax stay-at-home measures and allow certain businesses to reopen, others have extended lockdown orders that were set to expire at the end of April. In several instances, hoped-for reopening dates hinge on the availability of PPE and other medical supplies, namely, Covid-19 test kits. In Michigan, one of the states hit hardest by the pandemic, concerned citizens have met to protest the state’s recent extension of its stay-at-home order, and the state legislature has taken steps to sue its governor.
Amidst this unrest, however, Michigan’s Governor Whitmer cites a critical shortage of PPE in some areas, as well as the availability of test kits and other testing materials, such as swabs and chemical solution. According to Whitmer, “The CDC guidelines are that we should be testing between 1 to 2% of our population over the course of a week in order to have some confidence that it is safe to reopen. It’s [going to] be a little while before we get there.”
In Grand Rapids, on the west side of the state, Tasha Blackman, CEO of Cherry Health told reporters that, while they have a sufficient number of test kits, they lack the number of gowns and N95 masks needed by medical personnel to increase their rate of testing.
Michigan is not alone in its PPE requirements, with governors in other states also citing PPE equipment and testing ability as a central concern in the move to reopen.
Countries Worldwide Announce Lockdown Extensions, Cite PPE Shortage
The PPE shortage is not just a concern for the United States, but worldwide. Countries such as India and Ireland recently announced extensions to their lockdown requirements, extending those measures until May 18. In Russia, President Vladamir Putin extended the lockdown to May 11, citing PPE shortage as a crucial factor. “Compared to before, [we’re producing] a lot. But compared what we need, it’s still not enough,” he said during a televised conference, adding, “Despite increased production, imports – there’s a deficit of all sorts of things.”
In Russia, which ranks 8th in the world for confirmed cases, medics have expressed concern about working without proper protective equipment, and doctors in Germany, to protest a similar lack of protective clothing and equipment, have launched a campaign called Naked Qualms in which health care workers post pictures of themselves naked. According to GP Ruben Bernau, “The nudity is a symbol of how vulnerable we are without protection.”
Although some parts of the globe, like areas in the United States and Europe, have seen a flattening of curve, the coronavirus pandemic is just ramping up in other areas, like South America and Africa, meaning that demand for already-scare PPE supplies will only increase in many parts of the world.
Economic Impact of Lockdowns
The economic impact of the Covid-19 lockdowns has and will continue to be significant. According to the International Labour Organization, nearly half the world’s “informal workforce,” workers who are amongst the poorest and most vulnerable, without employment and wage protections, stand to see their livelihood destroyed. In the first 6 weeks since the start of the pandemic, over 30 million people in the United States filed for unemployment benefits, while economists expect the economy to contract by 40% during the April-June quarter. Polling shows that consumer confidence is the lowest it has been in 6 years, and 1 in 5 employed Americans expect their incomes to decrease in the next 6 months.
The economic impact has varied state by state, but amongst the hardest hit are Michigan and New Mexico. Michigan has fared worse than most states, and is looking at a $3 billion lose of revenue. New Mexico, one of the union’s smallest states population-wise, has been hit especially hit hard by plummeting oil prices, in addition to Covid-related job loss. While the state expects a $400 million budget deficit for 2020, projections for 2021 indicate a shortfall as large as $1.6 billion.
With schools closed in all but a handful of states, working parents are
struggling to work as much as usual, or at all. Getting students back in the classroom will be key in many families’ ability to maintain their income.
With the need to increase the PPE supply at the center of ending lockdown restrictions, hospitals, doctor’s offices, local municipalities, and state and federal governments must be aggressive in seeking new sources of supply. Companies such as Blueflame Medical are stepping in to open up new supply lines to bring PPE and testing equipment to those in need. The availability of protective equipment will be fundamental to reopening the economy and in preventing further economic disaster abroad and domestically.