PPE for a Pandemic: A Guide to Personal Protective Equipment and Masks

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by Cat Ellis

One of the problems with prepping for a pandemic is getting accurate information. When there’s a potential for a highly contagious and potentially deadly disease, people panic. Governments do what they can to minimize panic. This includes protective measures, like restricting travel. It can also mean controlling the release of information. We saw this with the West African Ebola outbreak, and we may be seeing it again with the Wuhan coronavirus.

Daisy reported on this earlier in her article, The Numbers for the Wuhan Coronavirus Outbreak Just Don’t Add Up. The official numbers released from China on confirmed infected and the low number of fatal outcomes compared to government response of locking down entire cities of millions of people under quarantine and health care workers seen in full hazmat gear seems incongruous.

Governments try to manage pandemic panic

Ebola was a top media story in 2014, as it spread from Guinea to Liberia and Sierra Leone. The public tuned in to hear the regular CDC updates from then CDC Director, Tom Frieden.

There was huge public outrage when several health care providers and volunteers from the US became ill and were transported back to the US for medical care. A nurse from Maine was quarantined in New Jersey before being released to Maine. Maine also sought to keep her in quarantine for observation. However, she was ultimately permitted to remain at home during her observation, in spite of the protests from her neighbors.

Then, it happened. The first case of Ebola in the US was confirmed in a traveler from Liberia, Thomas Eric Duncan. Two nurses contracted Ebola while caring for Mr. Duncan. One nurse had even boarded a plane for a vacation before being diagnosed. Tensions rose steeply as President Obama appointed Ron Klain, as his Ebola Response Coordinator. The media dubbed Klain Obama’s “Ebola Czar”.

Klain, a Fannie Mae lobbyist with had no medical background, was known for his unique ability to circumnavigate government bureaucracy and government regulations. Within weeks of Klain’s appointment to Ebola Czar, the Associated Press released a statement that was sent to editors that there would be no more stories on Ebola cases unless it also involved a major upset or delay, as happened with a cruise ship being turned away from port. Ebola was, essentially, out of the news.

Of course, that Ebola outbreak continued for over a year. But, you wouldn’t have known that by watching your regularly scheduled evening news.

Is China downplaying the Wuhan Coronavirus threat?

Downplaying the seriousness of a threat is nothing new. It’s much easier to manage information than to manage a panicked population. Unfortunately, it also puts people at risk. Saudi Arabia is a perfect example of this. When the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) first broke out, Saudi Arabia minimized the risk in its official reports. This led to a spread of MERS that didn’t need to happen.

A lot of questions surround the Wuhan coronavirus. There are the usual questions, such as how fast it is spreading, and how deadly it is. Then, there are other questions. Questions about why are millions of people under quarantine if there isn’t a significant threat? Why are health care workers being photographed moving patients wearing full-on hazmat gear? How legitimate are these photos anyway? Are they even from this outbreak?

We can’t know for sure, and uncertainty is the problem. Speculation is often a pointless exercise at best, and fear-mongering at worst. However, it is fair to have a certain amount of skepticism when it comes to anything to do with the Chinese government. They are already masters at manipulating and controlling their media.

As reported in Daisy’s article mentioned above, there are currently 900 confirmed cases worldwide with 26 fatalities. This is a mortality rate of just 2.88%. This is up by less than 1% from my article 2 days ago, Wuhan Virus Hits the US, What Preppers Need to Know. The overwhelming majority of these fatalities are reported to have been older men with a host of serious pre-existing conditions. Today, there was one fatality in a previously healthy man in his 30s.

Maybe I’m missing something, but if the risk of death from Wuhan coronavirus is still under 3%, that’s just not scary. Sure, it’s highly contagious. But, “highly contagious” does not automatically mean “highly fatal.” However, the response we have seen by the Chinese government, such as putting over 20 million people in quarantine, (now it’s 30 million) seems to be a bit of overkill.

There is, however, some precedence for these measures. China is opting to treat this outbreak as a Grade A infectious disease, as it did with SARS, because it is more effective to prevent its spread.

Currently, however, the new virus will be treated as a Grade A infectious disease, which requires the strictest prevention and control measures, including mandatory quarantine of patients and medical observation for those who have had close contact with patients, according to the commission.

At present, only two infectious diseases — bubonic plague and cholera — are classified as Grade A infectious diseases in China.

Wang Yuedan, an immunology professor at Peking University, said managing the new disease as Grade A will greatly help in its control and prevention. Some other serious infectious diseases, such as SARS, are also classified as Grade B infectious diseases, but have been managed as Grade A infectious diseases during their outbreaks, Wang said.

This is prudent, since we do not yet know if that relatively low mortality rate is accurate, or if it will continue to increase. And if it does, we certainly do not know by how much. The rationale at work here is that it is better to take extreme precautions now, rather than wait for proof that this virus is far more deadly than it appears at the moment.

I would love to believe that the Chinese government has taken these actions simply out of an abundance of caution. At the same time, this is China we’re talking about. A little, healthy skepticism is warranted.

Regardless of whether China is just being proactive, or if China actually is hiding the real risk, there will eventually be another major pandemic. Rather than wait for a deadly disease to visit your neighborhood, you should get prepped for a pandemic in advance.

Personal Protective Equipment

Many of these items are sold out. You can find some currently in-stock substitutes in this article.

One easy thing you can do to prepare for a deadly pandemic is to have a solid supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on hand. PPE prevents the spread of disease. These are items like facemasks, protective gloves, and so on that act as a barrier between you and pathogens.

The following PPE will allow you to create your own DIY hazmat suit. Please pay attention to sizing. All of these products were in stock and available within two to ten days from Amazon at the time of publication but please be aware that products are selling out extremely quickly right now.

Apron – Disposable Polypropylene

This goes on over everything else. If you just have scrubs, put this over your scrubs. If you have a suit, put this on over your suit. You want multiple layers of protection, and this is an easy-to-dispose option. (Disposal and decontamination options are important to consider.)

Base layer (Scrubs)

This is your base layer. Scrubs are made from durable fabric that stands up to the extra-harsh laundry chemicals used in hospitals. The fabric used is often treated to be antimicrobial.

Boot/Shoe Protectors

Shoe covers can protect shoes and boots from spills, if they are waterproof. Not all are. The boot/shoe protectors linked to above are waterproof.

Duct Tape

Duct tape has so many uses, I’m sure you already have some. You should, however, also keep some duct tape in your medical supplies. Use duct tape to tape down all seams of your chosen suit (example, where wrists meet gloves, where hood meets goggles, etc)

Encapsulated Suit

An encapsulated suit completely covers the body. While it covers the face, it still requires a respirator. It acts as a barrier against air, moisture, and water vapor, and it has taped seams to protect against spills. This was intended for industrial purposes, such as spraying pesticides. It isn’t cheap either. However, it offers more protection than either the Tyvek or Tychem suits.

Goggles

In the absence of a complete face shield, goggles will protect your eyes from being splashed with infected fluids, as well as from disinfectant chemicals. Goggles can fog up, so make sure you get some that resist fogging.

Nitrile Protective Gloves

These nitrile gloves are 9-mil thick and provide greater protection to your hands than cheaper, 4-mil gloves. However, it is better to wear a two-pair thickness.

Outer Protective Gloves

These go over your nitrile gloves. These provide another layer of protection but could impede any fine work you might need your fingertips for. Wear these when lifting a contagious person to move to another bed, stripping a bed of soiled linens, etc.

Protective Hood

This hood provides extra protection to the face. It can be worn over or underneath a mask but does not replace a respirator. Wear goggles over this hood and tape all along the seams between the goggles and the hood.

Respirator masks: N95 or P100 and extra P100 filters

N95 filters are disposable masks that will filter out particulates and aerosols. This level of protection was used by doctors working with SARS. Make sure you are using them correctly. Here’s an article about getting a good seal.

The P100 mask is a reusable mask. The P100 filters are an even more secure filter than the N95 filters. Here’s an article on selecting the right respirator masks.

Rubber Boots

Rubber boots will protect your feet and lower legs against standing in or being splashed by contaminated fluids.

Tyvek Suit

Tyvek suits offer more protection than scrubs, but less protection than a Tychem or encapsulated suit. These protect against many irritants and chemicals, and is often worn when doing pest extermination, asbestos removal, etc. They may not provide as much protection as other suits, but they are a cost effective way to add more protection.

Tychem Suit

This type of coverall offers more protection than the Tyvek suit. It is designed to withstand more caustic chemicals than a Tyvek suit. However, like Tyvek suits, it was intended for chemical and industrial applications, not medical. Still, it offers another layer of protection from potentially infected fluids.

For more specific information of PPE and preparing for a pandemic, please check out my book, Prepping for a Pandemic. That link is to the kindle version, as Amazon has been having a near impossible time keeping the paperback version in stock.

Is All That PPE Stuff Necessary?

My current opinion, which is subject to change as newer data becomes available, is that a full DIY hazmat suit is probably overkill for the Wuhan coronavirus. If we get better information and find out that 2019-nCoV has a much higher mortality rate than the current 3%, I’ll be dusting off my PPE supplies.

For now, carrying an N95 mask on you to prevent inhaling the virus if you thought you were at risk should be sufficient. Handwashing, hand sanitizers (if handwashing is not available), and nitrile gloves would also go a long way to reducing the spread of this or any contagious illness.

The idea here is, however, not to prep for just one possible pandemic disease, but for a range of potential pandemics. We don’t know what kinds of new and emerging diseases we might face. PPE, however, provides us with extra physical barriers between us and potentially deadly pathogens, whatever they may be.

And even if this coronavirus ends up not living up to all the media hype, still, by all means, stock up on PPE. It’s not like there’s a shelf life on things like rubber boots, goggles, or scrubs. At some point, even if it isn’t 2019-nCoV, there will be some emerging disease that does become the next great pandemic. When that happens, these supplies will be hard to come by and 10 times the price.

What are your thoughts?

Do you think the Wuhan coronavirus is the next big plague?

About Cat

Cat Ellis is an herbalist,  massage therapist, midwifery student, and urban homesteader from New England. She keeps bees, loves gardening and canning, and practice time at the range. She teaches herbal skills on her website, Herbal Prepper. Cat is a member of the American Herbalists Guild, and the author of two books, Prepper’s Natural Medicine and Prepping for a Pandemic.

PPE for a Pandemic: A Guide to Personal Protective Equipment and Masks
Cat Ellis

About the Author

Cat Ellis

Cat Ellis is an herbalist,  massage therapist, midwifery student, and urban homesteader from New England. She keeps bees, loves gardening and canning, and practice time at the range. She teaches herbal skills on her website, Herbal Prepper. Cat is a member of the American Herbalists Guild, and the author of two books, Prepper’s Natural Medicine and Prepping for a Pandemic.

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