Survey illustrates impact of limited and unpredictable supplies

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Healthcare epidemiologists report using unprecedented methods in response to the unique circumstances resulting from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, according to the results of a new survey published today in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.

In April, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America collected survey responses from healthcare epidemiologists at 69 healthcare facilities, including 58 from the United States and Canada and 11 internationally.

The researchers found many facilities were feeling shortages with 40 percent reporting their personal protective equipment (PPE) supply of respirators was either "limited" or at "crisis level."

Several facilities were optimizing use of PPE. Sixty-eight percent of facilities reported using, or planning to use, one or more strategies to extend the supply of respirators. The most frequently cited strategy, utilized by 52 percent, was to have health care providers in certain units reuse the same respirator for an entire day. Additionally, 71 percent of facilities with supplies at "limited" to "crisis" level were practicing some form of extended use or reuse of respirators. Many facilities also turned to reprocessing PPE with 48 percent of facilities indicating that they were reprocessing respirators.

Around 13 percent of facilities wrote in that they were self-producing PPE, such as face shields and gowns, due to shortages. A quarter of facilities were self-producing testing components, such as swabs, transport media, and collection tubes.

The vast majority (81 percent) reported having access to in-house testing for COVID-19. Sixty-four percent of facilities reported testing asymptomatic patients prior to certain procedures.

Lastly, approximately two-thirds of facilities reported receiving ethical guidance from their institutions regarding potential therapies for COVID-19, PPE contingency strategies, patient triage, equipment modifications, and visitor policies. Only about one-third of survey participants had received ethical guidance from states and professional societies in these areas. PPE contingency strategies was the topic that facilities said they had most frequently sought and received ethical guidance.

The authors said that the COVID-19 pandemic has compelled institutions to take rapid, practical actions for healthcare personnel and patient safety. Research is needed to assess further the safety and efficacy of these innovative strategies, and approaches must be identified to strengthen facilities and their communities to protect against shortages of critical healthcare supplies, prepare for potential new waves of COVID-19 cases, and be ready for future outbreaks of emerging pathogens, they said.

Editor's note: Click here for more information and ongoing COVID-19 updates for integrative healthcare professionals.