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Q&A: What are PPEs, N95 masks and ventilators?

Jonathon Berlin, Kori Rumore and Chad Yoder, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

As hospitals and medical workers across the country man the front lines in the battle to control and treat novel coronavirus, a constant theme is the shortage of key safety and treatment supplies. Three such supplies are often talked about: personal protective equipment or PPEs, N95 masks and ventilators. Here is a brief look at those items.

Q. What is PPE?

A. Many health care workers wear several different kinds of personal protective equipment, or PPEs, in their jobs every day. This equipment is designed to keep them safe from infectious materials, and it is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q. What do doctors, nurses and other health care personnel wear?

A. Health care personnel are adhering to specific protocols when caring for patients with coronavirus infection, including the use of N95 respirator masks, gowns, gloves and eye protection. Different medical facilities have different approaches on how to put on and take off protective gear. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that those wearing PPE should wash their hands before and after taking off the equipment.

Masks: Depending on the situation, health care professionals may wear N95 respirator masks or surgical masks. More on masks below.


Gowns: The CDC recommends the use of surgical gowns and surgical isolation gowns in situations like treating a highly contagious virus like the new coronavirus. These gowns are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and are rated for the levels of protection from liquids and the transfer of microorganisms and other particles. Surgical gowns are made to protect some parts of workers' bodies more deliberately, like the front of the gown and the arms from the wrist to above the elbow. Isolation gowns have a higher level of protection for the entire gown, seams included. In some situations medical coveralls may also be used. They are designed to cover the whole body, including the back and lower legs.

Gloves: The CDC says that disposable patient examination gloves are appropriate for care of patients with the coronavirus. These gloves are the same ones normally used.

Eye protection: These can be disposable face shields or safety glasses with extensions to cover the sides of a medical worker's eyes. The CDC recommends prioritizing eye protection during prolonged face-to-face contact with an infectious patient.

Q. What about coronavirus patients?


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