Shortages of personal protective equipment continue to plague hospitals and healthcare facilities across the United States, according to a study published this week in The Lancet.
The study reports on data collected by GetUsPPE, a volunteer organization connecting healthcare providers with supplies of PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic and was authored by academics and volunteers from Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Alpert Medical School at Brown University, Google and Pymetrics.
Most of the 6,169 hospitals, healthcare and other facilities — including nursing homes — that made PPE requests through GetUsPPE asked for N95 respirators (74%), surgical masks (64%), gowns (61%), and face shields (60%), according to the study. High COVID-19 infection and death rates have been reported at nursing homes across the country.
Metropolitan areas comprised 5,416 (88%) of the requests. The data show significant disparities between PPE availability and income levels, with requests equaling 3,990 (65%) coming from counties with the highest quartile of median income. This may be because requesters in those areas are more aware of the GetUsPPE Demand Data Hub, the organization said.
Hospitals topped the list of facility types requesting PPE at 27%, with outpatient clinics at 15% and skilled nursing facilities at 9%. Facilities in the South made the most requests at 32%, followed by the West at 26%, the Northeast at 23%, and the Midwest at 16%.
“It’s important that we have data on real, self-reported PPE shortages from those who don’t have enough equipment even as we approach four months into this pandemic since the first confirmed case in the U.S.,” said Dr. Ali Raja, executive vice chair of the Department of Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, in a news release. “As the supply chain catches up, we hope that the situation will improve, but the data show that PPE shortages remain a serious problem even at this stage in the pandemic.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimated in early March that the US had roughly 1% of the 3.5 billion N95 masks needed to manage a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report by CNBC. Facilities with inadequate PPE supplies reported the details of their needs through an online intake form, according to GetUsPPE. This data was correlated with public data sets to determine characteristics of the registered healthcare organizations such as region, rural-urban status and county-level data.
Billed as the largest study of PPE shortages since the start of the pandemic, it uses primary-source data from the GetUsPPE Demand Data Hub, a central online repository for PPE requests from hospitals and other healthcare facilities. In addition to collecting data from facilities that need protective gear, GetUsPPE gathers information from groups and individuals who can donate PPE and matches donations with requests through algorithms and manual matching. To date, GetUsPPE has provided over 1.5 million pieces of PPE, the organization noted.
The organization called for a significant increase in PPE manufacturing.
“The truth about the availability of PPE during the COVID-19 crisis has unnecessarily become a topic of controversy,” said Dr. Megan Ranney of the Department of Emergency Medicine, Alpert Medical School at Brown University. “But there is no controversy. The article published today in The Lancet is based on the real needs reported directly from more than 6,000 healthcare facilities, and it shows that significant shortages continue.”
The Lancet article is available here.