How will HCP (healthcare professionals) respond when COVID-19 slams into flu season?

As communities continue to open back from COVID-19, many hospitals around the world are continuing to struggle to procure enough PPE to meet potential surges this fall. Combine COVID-19 infections with a potentially bad year for influenza and our already stressed healthcare system and emergency responders would be pushed beyond their limits.

As temperatures drop during the fall season, more people tend to gather inside. Social distancing, hand hygiene, and facial coverings become an afterthought as exposure to influenza and COVID-19 are likely. Determining whether someone has either COVID-19 or influenza will be challenging as both viruses have similar symptoms. Healthcare professionals will be required to test for both viruses, at a time when COVID-19 tests often take 24 hours or longer for results. To make things more complicated, some people could be infected with both viruses at the same time. Healthcare professionals must continue to assume that all patients are infected and take necessary precautions.

Will healthcare professionals and emergency responders have enough PPE for a potential second wave? During the peak of the pandemic, many organizations including PPE manufacturers and the United States government were caught flat-footed. Healthcare systems scrambled to source enough gowns, gloves, and respirators to protect themselves while treating COVID-19 patients. Despite a substantial increase in global PPE output today, many nurses are still being asked to reuse respirators to “optimize supplies”. According to an August survey of 21,500 nurses by the American Nurses Association, 68% of nurses are required to reuse disposable respirators, many for more than the five times recommended by the CDC.

The solution to the shortage of respirators can be a broader use of the Defense Production Act, which gives the president of the United States power over funding for the production and distribution of critical supplies during crises. However, an alternative solution and one that is likely more viable is to implement wider-spread use of reusable respirators. Investing in reusable protective equipment, like powered air-purifying respirators(PAPR), can ease the burden on the supply chain of traditional N95 masks. Reusable respirators are often a much more cost-effective solution than disposables and do not require healthcare systems to chase the supply chain.

Aside from the cost-effectiveness and supply chain relief of reusable respirators, PAPRs have many advantages. The EVA PAPR by Bullardboasts protection factors 2.5 to 10 times higher than N95 masks, offers both respiratory and splash protection in a single system, requires no fit test, improves the breathability of the wearer, and is readily available. As COVID-19 and influenza potentially collide this fall, it is more important than ever to protect our healthcare heroes so they can in turn protect our loved ones.