Help, I Put on my PPE but Still Got Sick!

 Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the cornerstone of the world’s approach to stopping the spread of the virus has been the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Items such as masks, face shields, and gloves have been promoted to “stop the spread”, and have been the subject of much debate over efficacy and even issues of personal freedom.


 With the recent spike in infections brought on by the highly contagious Omicron variant, even those who don PPE religiously may find themselves felled by illness. However, experts caution people not to discount the efficacy of PPE due to breakthrough infections. Conversely, people have been encouraged not to let their guard down concerning PPE usage as Omicron burns through the population. 


The Reason for Breakthrough Infections


 The Omicron variant of COVID has proven more contagious than past variants. This hyper-contagious nature of Omicron has led to vaccinated individuals who regularly use PPE to become infected, despite their best efforts to avoid illness. The reasons for this vary:


– Omicron can be spread by asymptomatic people who may be discontinuing the use of PPE because they believe they are low-risk 


– Some states are abandoning their mask mandates, even as Omicron spikes 


– Omicron is found closer to the nose and mouth rather than deep in the lungs. This location makes the virus easier to expel, with more of the virus being spread with each sneeze, cough, or droplet that escapes. 


  For these reasons and more, the use of PPE, and specifically masks, is perhaps more important than ever as we ride this latest coronavirus wave. 


Where the Supply Chain Comes In 


 The term “supply chain” has been in the news in the past few months, and for a good reason. Because this latest iteration of the virus is so incredibly contagious, staffing shortages have led to a trickle-down of supply chain issues. This staffing shortage has hit the PPE industry hard, leading to the scarcity of much-needed PPE for hospitals and the general population. 


 Patrick Callaway, Founder, and CEO of Octofund Group, is on the front lines of the PPE supply chain. His company has worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to provide what he terms an “honest supply chain” of PPE. 


 “We understand how hard it can be financially, as well as emotionally, this need to protect yourself and others,” says Callaway, “We strive to provide the essentials at our lowest price to cater to everyone rather than trying to take advantage of a serious pandemic.” 


 This honest approach to PPE supply, where the prices are not marked up to sky-high levels simply because demand is peaking, is appreciated in a pandemic climate that has been peppered with price gouging, misinformation, and combative opinions on the wearing of masks altogether. 


Effective PPE Use Still a Timely Topic 


 With breakthrough infections of the vaccinated and mask-compliant making news, some have opined that this proves that masks and other PPE are ineffective against the virus. Health experts and virologists, however, disagree. 


 The CDC has released continuously updated guidance on the most effective use of masks and other PPE to halt the spread of the virus and keep yourself well. These directives include:


– Wearing a mask that fits properly. The mask should not be too large or too small. It should not gap in places or continuously fall off your nose.


– Speaking of fit, the mask should cover your mouth and nose entirely. The issue of what has jokingly been dubbed “chin diapers” is a real detriment to the overall efficacy of PPE. If you’re going to wear a mask below your nose, your chances of catching the virus multiply. 


– Those ages two and up, even those who are fully vaccinated, should wear a mask indoors in public. 


– People may choose to wear a mask outdoors if in a crowded area with sustained close contact with people. 


– Choose a mask that offers the greatest amount of protection, such as an N95, ASTM Level 3, or KN95 masks.

– Look for masks that are higher class. These masks have smaller micron/higher particulate filtration efficacy. This means there are smaller holes in the mask being webbed together. COVID is a very small particle and the smaller webbed holes provide better protection, as compared to the protection of Level 1 or cloth masks. 


 A breakthrough infection of the coronavirus, especially with highly contagious Omicron, is no reason to abandon the use of PPE entirely. However, one may wish to evaluate if they are correctly and consistently using PPE to the best of their ability if they become sick. 

 Experts are cautiously watching the numbers to see if this current wave of the virus may be waning. It continues to be imperative that PPE remains part of the plan to keep people healthy and safe. 

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