Personal protective equipment, commonly referred to as "PPE", is equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, PPE is an abbreviation many have become familiar with as product shortages become a major concern across the state.

In Franklin County, according to Emergency Management Agency Director Amy Lindsey, there are 270 first responders to provide PPE for. This includes five law enforcement agencies, eight fire departments, EMS, child protective services, New Horizons Rehab, the coroner and select health clinics.

Gloves, face masks, goggles and other PPE have a front and center placement at the Franklin County COVID-19 Task Force headquarters in the government center. Since the onset of COVID-19, supplies have dwindled quickly, but Lindsey is working hard to combat shortages. Lindsey placed an order with Franklin College Sheriff’s Department several weeks ago for needed supplies but is unsure when shipments will be received due to products being on backorder across the state and nation. This leaves supplies at the COVID-19 Task Force headquarters limited at this time. For example, there are small and medium masks and gloves, but very few large and extra-large available for Franklin County's first responders.

“PPE is one of the most important tools for protecting our first responders from COVID-19, and many infectious diseases,” Lindsey said. “It is the first line of defense against contamination and helps protect our emergency responders and their patients from spreading diseases. N95 respirators, our most critical protective equipment when dealing with coronavirus, is in short supply nationally, so we're keeping that for our front-line responders who have the highest risk of infection from transporting ill patients.”

Lindsey has what she believes is a good baseline number of PPE that is needed as a 30-day supply for first responders in Franklin County. According to her figures, the EMA department will need 6,200 masks, 25,320 pairs of gloves and 5,660 goggles. Currently, Lyndsey believes the EMA has enough PPE to last three to four weeks if there is no spike in emergency calls.

“We've been able to meet their needs so far and hope we'll continue to be able to do so for the near future until supply lines can be restored,” Lindsey said.

In order to stretch all PPE, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put out guidelines on optimization strategies for PPE that all U.S. healthcare facilities should be using. This includes but is not limited to:

* Maximize use of engineering controls, such as barriers and maintained ventilation systems, and administrative controls, such as altering work practices to minimize patient contacts.

* Cancel elective and non-urgent procedures/appointments.

* Reserve PPE for HCP and replace PPE normally used for source control with other barrier precautions such as tissues.

* Use reusable PPE that can be reprocessed.

* Use PPE beyond the manufacturer-designated shelf life for training.

* Consider allowing HCP to extend use of respirators, facemasks, and eye protection, beyond a single patient contact.

However, the CDC reminds all health care facilities and first responders to promptly resume standard practices regarding PPE as it becomes available.

The FCSD is following the CDC guidelines and is reusing face masks as much as possible but can only do so a couple of times before they must be discarded.

Brookville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Aaron Leffingwell notes responding to calls is different due to COVID-19.

“It's different responding on calls now because we are using multiple forms of PPE when interacting with all patients when we usually would only have used gloves in the past, Leffingwell said. “And it does concern you of the possibility of infecting your family when you come home from work because of someone that was positive but did not know yet. Our jobs are stressful enough without having to add these additional concerns.”

Leffingwell admits he knew the risks of the job when he signed up for it, but his family didn't sign up for the same and for the first time in his 20 years of fire and EMS, Leffingwell has to worry about his family's health because of something he was exposed to while on the job. “That is my biggest concern in all of this,” Leffingwell admits.

For community members who would like to support first responders with PPE, Deputy Jason Lovins said the COVID-19 Task Force would gladly accept homemade or donated masks, gowns and other PPE at the EMA.

“We've received a generous outpouring of support from local groups who've made homemade masks for our non-responders (responders can't wear homemade masks on runs, as they're not sanitary and don't offer the level of protection EMS needs, but we've been able to supply other higher risk individuals who need protection), donations of gloves, and offers to sew gowns,” Lindsey said. “We could use some face shields, if anyone has them available or can make them with a 3D printer. We do not have gowns; however, we haven't had a big request for them. Most of our gown requests are coming from non-traditional responders (home health companies, elder care facilties, etc).”

PPE will continue to be monitored closely by Lindsey, but for how long Lyndsey still can't say as she can't predict when confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Franklin County will officially peak.

“There's no way for me to know that, unfortunately,” Lyndsey said regarding the peak of COVID-19 cases in Franklin County. “If we say yes (FC has hit the peak), then people relax and drop their cleaning/safety habits and we get another spike. My fear is a secondary or tertiary spike, when things start getting back to 'normal'. It's safer to continue to be cautious, especially in a county that gets 1 million visitors a year, which brings a huge threat to our citizens' health and safety as well as the health and safety of the visitors.”

To contact the EMA office regarding donations of PPE community members can email ema@franklin or call the EMA office at 765-647-4014.