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Coronavirus: National PPE Survey 'Paints Disturbing and Alarming Picture'

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   March 30, 2020

The national survey shows widespread shortages of personal protective equipment, including respirators, surgical masks, face shields, and gowns.

Supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) are running out across the country, according to a national survey conducted by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is mainly spread person-to-person via respiratory droplets, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control has reported. PPE is an essential element of protecting healthcare workers from novel coronavirus infection, according to the CDC.

APIC conducted a national survey last week of 1,140 infection preventionists in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. APIC executives presented the findings of the survey during a conference call on March 27.

"The results paint a disturbing and alarming picture. Nearly half—48%—of U.S. healthcare facilities surveyed are already out of or almost out of respirators, and these are used in caring for the patients with COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Out of that 48%, 20% of the respondents are completely out of respirators," said APIC CEO Katrina Crist, MBA.

"This is simply unacceptable. Shortages of critical PPE and disinfection supplies are jeopardizing our ability to safely treat patients and protect the healthcare workers who put their lives on the line every day. The survey shows that we must act, and we must act now," she said.

In addition to the data about respirator shortages, the survey found scarcity of several other key infection control supplies:

  • Surgical masks: 1% have none, 31% are almost out, 48% are running low
  • Face shields: 13% have none, 37% are almost out, 38% are running low
  • Goggles: 11% have none, 28% are almost out, 38% are running low
  • Gloves: 5% are almost out, 32% are running low
  • Gowns: 1% have none, 23% are almost out, 44% are running low
  • Hand sanitizer: 3% have none, 26% are almost out, 43% are running low

"Our survey shows that the supply shortages are widespread throughout the country. Therefore, every hospital is concerned about putting patients and healthcare workers at unnecessary greater risk in these coming days and weeks due to lack of available PPE," said Ann Marie Pettis, RN, 2020 president-elect of APIC, and director of infection prevention for UR Medicine Highland Hospital in Rochester, New York.

Call for action

"We all know that time is critical. The federal government must act now to secure more PPE and coordinate distribution where it is needed most. Every minute matters. Every minute wasted puts more lives at risk," said Connie Steed, MSN, RN, 2020 president of APIC, and director of infection prevention and control at Prisma Health-Upstate in Greenville, South Carolina.

The federal government needs to compel manufactures to produce PPE and other essential supplies, she said. "APIC is calling on the federal government to activate the Defense Production Act and any other means at their disposal to ensure adequate supplies for healthcare personnel to safely treat COVID-19 patients."

Healthcare workers also need clarity from government officials and supply chain leaders, she said. "They need to know exactly when they can expect to get desperately needed supplies to arrive, so they don't have to turn to unproven methods. APIC is calling for transparency around delivery dates for these critically needed supplies. 'Soon' is simply not good enough. We need them immediately."

Christopher Cheney is the CMO editor at HealthLeaders.


Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as respirators is essential to safeguard healthcare workers from novel coronavirus infection.

A national survey of infection preventionists found that 48% of their healthcare facilities were either completely out of respirators or nearly out.

Officials from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology say urgent action is needed to increase the supply of PPE.

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