Depleted Protective Gear Stockpiles Hinder Ability to Shield from Germs

doctors and nurses putting selves at risk, working through illness

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

National stockpiles of protective medical gear are running out, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Now, states are competing for supplies and accepting donations. In hospitals, shielding yourself from germs is vital.

Personal protective equipment protects health care workers from getting ill and from passing germs between patients, especially important on the front lines during a highly contagious viral pandemic. Photo by beton studio / Shutterstock

According to the article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the need for protective gear is turning ugly. “The government’s emergency stockpile of respirator masks, gloves, and other medical supplies is running low and is nearly exhausted due to the coronavirus outbreak, leaving the Trump administration and the states to compete for personal protective equipment in a freewheeling global marketplace rife with profiteering and price-gouging,” the article said. It cited officials from the Department of Homeland Security as its sources.

Protective equipment benefits the public twofold. It reduces the chances of care providers contracting illness from patients, meaning they won’t have to work through being sick; and it prevents them from spreading the germs they’ve gotten from patients to other patients. When faced with upticks in contagious diseases, protective equipment is more important than ever.

Primum Non Nocere

The Philadelphia Enquirer article highlights just how important it is for medical workers to have ample supplies of face masks, gloves, and so on.

“As coronavirus hot spots flare from coast to coast, the demand for safety equipment—also known as personal protective equipment (PPE)—is both immediate and widespread, with health officials, hospital executives, and governors saying that their shortages are critical and that health care workers are putting their lives at risk while trying to help the surging number of patients.”

Protecting oneself in the medical environment is vital to patient care. Dr. Roy Benaroch, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine, says that one phrase taught to medical students is “primum non nocere,” which is Latin for “first, do no harm.”

“It’s axiomatic to the practice of medicine: Whatever you do, don’t make things worse,” Dr. Benaroch said. “First, and above all, do no harm.”

However, he said, even before this, the first thing to ensure is that you protect yourself. “Do not endanger yourself in order to provide care. Don’t jump into churning waters to save someone who is drowning if you’re likely to drown yourself. In the Emergency Department and in the field, in the practice of emergency medicine, there are dangers for the practitioners. First, do not harm yourself, then, do not harm your patient.”

Why Doctors Prioritize Protecting Themselves

At first glance, protecting oneself may sound selfish. However, Dr. Benaroch offered several examples to illustrate the importance of a medical practitioner practicing self-care in order to help others. One situation he imagined was hiking in a rural area and coming across a farming accident involving a tractor with its wheels still spinning and two injured people on the ground nearby.

“The first thing you do is turn off the tractor,” he said. “In other words, make sure the scene is safe, and protect yourself. You can’t help someone who’s injured if you become injured yourself—and if you become a patient, someone is going to have to help you instead of helping the people who are already sick.”

Another hypothetical situation involves a sick patient in the ER who’s suffering from vomiting and fever. The patient is visiting from Nigeria during the Ebola outbreak. His travel history brought this information to the forefront and he’s been put into an isolation room. Now it’s your turn, Dr. Benaroch said, to take over.

“First, protect yourself. You don protective gear—a gown, and mask, and gloves—and head into the exam room.”

Ebola is contagious and deadly, so stopping the disease spread is top priority. Even if the patient is diagnosed with something else and tests negative for Ebola, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Stories like this illustrate the need for adequate protective equipment in hospitals. While the coronavirus rages, killing tens of thousands worldwide, it’s more important than ever for those in the medical field to protect themselves from germs.

Dr. Roy Benaroch contributed to this article. Dr. Benaroch is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine

Dr. Roy Benaroch contributed to this article. Dr. Benaroch is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine. He earned his B.S. in Engineering at Tulane University, followed by his M.D. at Emory University.