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What Is PPE And Where Can You Donate It To Fight COVID-19?

Personal protective equipment is essential for health care workers fighting COVID-19.

Canada needs Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) badly.

As COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, continues to spread across the country and the world, health-care workers are bracing for a huge influx of patients into the system. And many say we don’t have the equipment they need to battle the disease on the frontlines.

“We are short of masks, gloves, gowns, hand sanitizer,” wrote one Ottawa nurse in response to a HuffPost Canada call-out for workers’ stories. “It is scary that we don’t have the equipment we need to keep us safe.”

This week, the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) sounded the alarm on impending PPE shortages in the province, and called on anyone with the protective items stockpiled to donate to front-line health-care efforts.

“We call on governments and organizations at all levels to continue their efforts to bring urgency to the global shortage of PPE and essential medical equipment. We must be prepared for a shortage of masks” said Dr. Sohail Gandhi, OMA president in a statement. “Health-care workers are at high risk of exposure to the virus. Protection for themselves and the patients they care for is vitally important in the battle against this virus.”

But what even is PPE? And how can you help? Here’s everything you need to know about PPE, and why it’s so important.

What is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?

Personal protective equipment in the context of health care is defined as “specialized clothing or equipment worn by an employee for protection against infectious materials.”

We’re talking about protective masks, N95 respirators, face-shields, gloves, gowns and other items. All of these items prevent human contact with the virus by creating a barrier between the worker and a patient, surface or the air.

A pharmacist holds an N95 mask.
MJ_Prototype via Getty Images
A pharmacist holds an N95 mask.

PPE needs to be properly fitted to the person wearing it, and should needs to be changed often. N-95 respirators — the face-covering that best protects against air-born COVID-19 droplets — need to be changed as soon as they are contaminated with fluid, or after several hours of continuous use. Gloves need to be changed after each interaction with fluid and gowns should be changed between patients.

Considering the anticipated influx of COVID-19 patients into our health care system, that’s a lot of supplies needed.

Do you need PPE?

As COVID-19 continues to spread in Canada, many people are likely wondering if they should invest in their own PPE. But the reality is, we’re facing a shortage for health-care workers on the front lines. The best thing you can do as an average Canadian is not rush out to buy masks, but practise social distancing and stay home.

WATCH: What is social distancing? Story continues below.

You don’t need PPE inside your house or to go to the grocery store. Save the supply for health workers who are directly dealing with COVID-19 patients. Do your part by staying home if possible and remaining at least two metres away from others when outside.

Leave the masks for the people who really need it.

How can you donate if you have it?

Many businesses outside of health care use PPE for various reasons. Tattoo artists and shops usually have face masks, gloves, and protective paper linings on hand. Same goes for businesses like nail salons or estheticians. University medical programs also often have extra supplies on hand, as do dental offices or veterinarians.

Representatives from Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto have said they are accepting N-95 masks, surgical masks that contain coughs, vented goggles, protective gloves and gowns for donation.

If you’re a business owner or institution looking to donate PPE to the COVID-19 fight, look up your local hospital and see if they are accepting donations. Many cities, such as Windsor, Ont., are collecting PPE and redistributing it to local health care facilities.

“We foresee a shortage and that’s why we’re acting now, because the folks at the hospital are indicating to us they’ve never been in this position before where they have supplies looking like they can run out,” Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said.

What are companies doing?

Some companies are also lending a hand to increase PPE supply. Fashion designer Christian Siriano has said his company will pivot to sewing face masks. And here in Canada, luxury coat brand Canada Goose has announced they will be shifting to producing medical gowns and scrubs, with the aim to produce 10,000 gowns.

EllisDon, one of Canada’s largest construction companies, is building an inventory of its extra masks and are up to about 100 thus far, said spokesman Dustin Luchka.

“Frankly, we will give whatever we possibly can,” he said.

With files from the Canadian Press.

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