The Biden Administration has pledged to reopen schools to in-person instruction within its first 100 days. However, reopening schools comes with its own set of complications as schools lack the adequate PPE to reopen safely.
The Big Picture
An update on the number of cases and deaths from the coronavirus: As of Sunday, February 21st, the United States has over 27 million cases of COVID-19 and 496,000 deaths. North Dakota, South Dakota, and Rhode Island top the chart of highest case rates (cases per 100,000 people), while states like California, Texas, and Florida have the highest total number of cases. According to the CDC, a total of 63.1 million vaccines have been administered, and the past 30 days have seen a steady decline in cases.
What Does a PPE Shortage Look Like Schools?
As the PPE crisis continues and schools begin to reopen, many experts are focusing their attention on ensuring children can safely learn in-person. However, providing PPE to school teachers, nurses, and students is an ongoing challenge. As reported in CNBC, school administrators have been facing PPE shortages for months. Some schools report months of backlog when trying to order masks, wipes, gloves, and more. While we may see boxes of masks and gloves lining the shelves of grocery stores, schools are in need of medical-grade PPE, a type of PPE that is slowly becoming more available to healthcare workers but still not accessible to many schools.
With 17% of all PPE orders being from schools, data from Get Us PPE shows that schools are the group most requesting PPE. This push to obtain PPE comes as states like Iowa implement mandates for 100% in-person learning options to be available to students. Especially difficult to find are N95 masks of the proper size for nurses, physical education teachers, and other faculty who work in close proximity to students. However, Get Us PPE has found that hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and nitrile gloves are still the three items most demanded from schools, showing that this shortage is spreading far beyond just masks. When interviewed, Dr. Shika Gupta, executive director of Get Us PPE, explained, “As we turn to schools, they shouldn’t have to go through the same struggles that healthcare workers have already gone to.”
As the race to obtain PPE continues, schools now worry about new variants affecting the amount/type of PPE they need to order. For example, new suggestions like double-masking can cause additional strain on some schools’ already low mask supply.
These concerns are echoed by teacher unions. While some schools have obtained necessary amounts of PPE, others are reporting never receiving shipments of PPE or getting masks in the wrong sizes. Delays in the supply chain only further this issue. As reported by the Department of Education, about 1200 teachers have died from COVID-19 in the past year, a sobering reality as schools start to bring in more students.
This Week at Get Us PPE
This past week, Dr. Shikha Gupta, executive Director of Get Us PPE was named a TIME100 Next Honoree. The list honors the “emerging leaders shaping the future.” Alongside pop icons like Dua Lipa and young creatives like Amanda Gorman, Dr. Gupta Dr. Shikha Gupta was recognized for her tremendous work while leading Get Us PPE. Representative Andy Kim wrote the testament for Dr. Gupta, stating that “Dr. Shikha Gupta wasn’t on the White House Task Force. She wasn’t a governor or a member of Congress. She held no title other than doctor and citizen. But when she and her colleagues saw a need—and a hashtag—they met the moment and took action.” From being one of the first volunteers at Get Us PPE to now holding the title of executive director, read more about Dr. Gupta’s journey at Get Us PPE.