So, what exactly is PPE?

March 25, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, we’re all becoming more familiar with terms like Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and N95 masks.

But who needs PPE, why do they need it and when?

Personal Protective Equipment is typically used in healthcare and lab settings, worn by workers to block infection by viruses and bacteria from bodily fluids.

PPE is regulated by the FDA to ensure it is resistant to rips/tears and effectively blocks fluids.

Healthcare workers directly caring for people with COVID-19 must wear full PPE, which includes gowns/clothing, gloves, face shields or goggles, surgical masks and/or respirator masks.


Protective clothing includes surgical gowns. They’re designed to cover the whole body and to be worn once, then thrown out.


Surgical masks/respirator masks should be worn by patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 during treatment, and healthcare workers while they’re treating patients with respiratory symptoms.

N95 respirators and surgical masks protect the people wearing them from airborne particles and liquids. N95 respirators are different than surgical masks, however, and offer a higher level of protection. They fit tightly around the nose and mouth and filter out 95 percent of large and small airborne particles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend the general public wear face masks, and instead advises proper social distancing, handwashing, hand sanitizer and other good hygiene, such as covering coughs and sneezes and staying home when you’re sick.

“Wearing masks when asymptomatic may potentially increase the risk of transmission due to improper use,” says Annemarie Schmocker, infection control manager at Elmhurst Hospital. “It could lead to increased face touching to reposition the mask and can lead to a false sense of security of protection, depending on how long they wear the same mask, and makes it less likely that individual will wash their hands.”

Goggles/face shields

Protecting the healthcare worker’s mucous membranes, including the eyes, nose and mouth (the T-zone), is important. Goggles provide eye protection, as infected patients could cough or sneeze droplets into the air. A face shield is a protective device that fully covers the T-zone and offers added protection to the surgical mask the healthcare worker is wearing.


Medical gloves are disposable as well as leak/rip/tear-resistant. Before they put on the gloves, and when they take them off, healthcare workers wash their hands.

Healthcare workers wear PPE when they’re caring for contagious patients. Because of the growing number of people hospitalized with coronavirus, PPE is in high demand.

“Healthcare workers caring for COVID-19 patients require several pieces of PPE, and based on the acuity of the patients, healthcare workers may have to enter the patient’s room multiple times, which increases the total usage, and increases the burn (usage) rate for the hospital,” Schmocker says.

What is Edward-Elmhurst Health doing about coronavirus? Get the latest information here.

Edward-Elmhurst Health plans to use medical grade and approved PPE as the first line for our front lines. However, we are accepting all commercially and homemade PPE as emergency back-up supplies. In the event we do not need to use those supplies we will work with other organizations to put them to use to the best of our ability. Items most needed include:

  • N95 masks
  • Procedural/surgical masks
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Isolation gowns
  • Goggles
  • Thermometers

If you have new, unused equipment and would like to make a donation please visit us at our Loading Docks and we will receive your donation in a safe manner. Donations can be accepted between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., Monday through Friday.

For Edward Hospital, the loading dock is located on Osler Drive west of the South Parking Garage. View the Edward Hospital campus map.

For Elmhurst Hospital, the loading dock is located on Harvard Street on the north end of the building. View the Elmhurst Hospital campus map.

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