Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Coronavirus

Image of the materials and tools needed to make homemade PPE masks to stop coronavirus.

Everyday life changed considerably when the coronavirus hit its stride in March of 2020 and the pandemic forced the United States to declare a state of emergency. If you were a nonessential worker, you likely found yourself working at home or taking a self-isolation vacation. But, for millions of essential workers, personal protective equipment (PPE) became a necessity.

Initial Prevention Strategies

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines that focused on “flattening the curve,” or the number of new COVID-19 patients. Strategies were put in place to ensure hospitals and medical personnel had the PPE equipment they needed. After that, the focus shifted to how to protect employees and the customers they served during everyday interactions. Practices such as social distancing and PPE equipment like face masks, gloves and gowns came into play. People could attend to daily needs such as shopping for food and medicine with more confidence.

As states start to reopen their economies in stages for nonessential businesses, new guidelines have been dictated. Keep washing your hands often, refrain from touching your face and stay 6 feet away from others in public settings. However, you can also help protect yourself and others by learning about and using PPE while you work, shop and enjoy public activities like going to the movies and dining out with friends.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) At-a-Glance

Face Masks

While early guidance suggested that face masks weren’t necessary for the general public, the CDC changed its tune. It now recommends you wear a cloth face mask to help slow the spread of COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus. This is especially helpful in spaces where it’s hard to maintain social distancing, including pharmacies, grocery stores and gas stations. Face covers don’t actually protect you, but if you’re an asymptomatic carrier, it can help prevent you from spreading the illness to others.

Woman in front of grocery store, putting on her face mask PPE.
A face mask helps when maintaining a safe physical distance is difficult.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean acquiring medical-grade PPE such as N95 or KN95 surgical masks or respirators as health care professionals caring for those with the illness need them to do their jobs effectively. It just means you need to either purchase a premade cloth mask or make one yourself. Keep in mind that those with asthma shouldn’t wear a face covering at all, nor should children ages two and under.

If you’re the crafty sort, you can easily make face masks at home with some material, thread and elastic. The CDC even provides instructions for making DIY COVID-19 face coverings with or without sewing. If you lack the sewing skills to make your own, you can also improvise with things you have around the house. Some potential cloth face-covering options include:

  • Bandannas
  • Scarves
  • Neck gaiters
  • Old T-shirts

To wear face coverings effectively to protect others against potential novel coronavirus infection, make sure the mask fits snugly against your face yet remains comfortable, so you don’t constantly touch it to adjust it. Also, it needs to cover both your mouth and nose to prevent fluids from escaping as you breathe and talk.

Choose between back-side ties and elastic straps for a secure fit. Use multiple layers of fabric to better capture escaping moisture. For safety’s sake, be sure you can breathe well with the face covering you choose and that you can launder it easily without damaging the material or making it lose its shape.

Protective Gloves

Protective gloves may also help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. The CDC suggests those caring for the sick should wear gloves when cleaning the area around the patient and handling a sick individual’s body fluids.

Additionally, it recommends wearing gloves when cleaning your workplace or home with disinfectant. After you finish tasks with disposable gloves, be sure to take them off and throw them away. Also, put on a new pair if you need to complete another task to prevent potential cross-contamination. After you finish, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds for added peace of mind.

Keep in mind that the CDC doesn’t recommend you wear gloves as PPE when you’re running everyday errands. You can still spread the COVID-19 novel coronavirus even when you wear gloves to handle shopping buggies or use a store’s credit card reader. Unless you change your gloves every time you touch something new, you’re just spreading germs the same as you would with your hands.

A better option is to keep a supply of hand sanitizer on hand if it’s not practical to wash your hands with soap and water. Workplaces like restaurants and grocery stores typically require workers that touch unpackaged food to glove up, though they should change those gloves frequently to avoid potential cross-contamination.

PPE and the New Normal

Woman wearing filtering facepiece (FFP) respirator/mask and gloves while grocery shopping.
Your best bet for boosting your safety is to wearing PPE while out and about.

While you likely long for the relatively carefree existence you enjoyed before the COVID-19 novel coronavirus reared its ugly head, lots of practical, simple ways exist to lessen the chances of exposure. This means that until health care professionals discover cures or develop vaccines, society finds itself trying to deal with the new normal.

In the near future at least, it seems your best bets for boosting your safety and that of others include wearing PPE such as cloth face coverings, washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and social distancing by staying 6 feet away from others in public areas and the workplace.

As always, visit the CDC’s COVID-19 page for continued, up-to-date recommendations.

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