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                  PPE                          Personal Protective Equipment


A Plague Doctor – from Jean-Jacques Manget, Traité de la peste (1721) - in the public domain

In the early weeks of COVID-19 media coverage, the acronym PPE for Personal Protective Equipment became a commonly heard term as we learned of the highly contagious nature of the novel airborne coronavirus and its too-easy transmission. There was a shortage of PPE equipment -- N95 respirator masks, face shields, gloves, gowns, needed by health care workers on the front lines, e.g. doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists. Constantly in contact with the virus, they require protection for their own health, and the health of other patients, colleagues, and personal family members. There was a lot of concern about the delay by President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act, to mobilize domestic factories to deliver 133 million N95's -- an order placed a full month after the crisis had emerged, that wouldn't be delivered for three months.


Who among us can abide the shameful and deadly blow of President Trump's directives to state governors to locate and purchase the equipment themselves. "We’re not a shipping clerk": Trump tells governors to step up efforts to get medical supplies" was a Politico headline on 3/19/20.  Bidding wars ensued between states for PPE on the international market, in particular China, the country where the pandemic began. Yet when these shipments arrived on our shores, the feds intercepted and redirected the state-purchased equipment to the federal government's supply.


As a result of these failures at the federal level, workers found themselves needing to re-use masks, or use only one per shift, when typically masks would be changed between every patient. It was as if we were back in the 1700's, when doctors treating patients with the plague owned and wore a single beaked mask, day after day. It is horrifying to realize how hundreds of years of progress could be undermined by the one man who by his actions is "actively spreading a deadly virus", according to Irish Times journalist Fintan O'Toole. 

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