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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

CDC: Healthcare Workers Can Wear Bandanas, Scarves if Out of Masks

By Gary Evans, Medical Writer

While there is a legitimate lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers as the outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) increases in the United States, some hospitals are reporting inordinately high “burn rates” of PPE driven by fear among medical staff.

“Our PPE is flying off the shelves,” said Michael Anne Preas, RN, senior director of Infection Prevention and Hospital Epidemiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. “Our burn rate is so much higher than our actual need rate because of the public perception that everyone is going to die. There is this perception among our healthcare force that COVID-19 is going to be their demise.”

Preas commented on the situation at a recent infection control advisory committee meeting at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some of the fear level can be ascribed to the lack of infection prevention training in many healthcare personnel, said Michael Bell, MD, deputy director of the CDC Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion.

“We have major gaps in infection transmission training and teaching, ranging from medical schools to nursing schools,” he said. “I hate to say it, but what we are seeing now is the result of a very long problem of neglecting that part of our education.”

One of the lessons of this pandemic is that infection control education should be emphasized in all medical and nursing training.

“I think we need to be asking ourselves what should we be doing for our existing staff, and also for the people coming through this process, to make sure for the next one of these — and there will be a next one — we don’t have such a heavy lift to do,” Bell said.

However, some of the fear and concern expressed by healthcare workers may be their perception that they do not have sufficient supplies of PPE in their facilities to protect themselves while treating COVID-19 patients. That perception has become a reality in some settings, as there are anecdotal reports of healthcare workers making face shields and masks. In the absence of all other options, the CDC recently said healthcare workers can use bandanas or scarves for masks if they also wear a face shield.

For more on this story, see the May issue of Hospital Employee Health.