Opinion: PPE, the Tyranny of Affluence and Asking the Right Questions

AP featured image
FILE – In this May 1, 2009 file photo, a 3M N95 mask is modeled in New York. 3M Co., which makes everything from Post-It Notes to insect repellent, said Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009, strong sales of health care products in flu-wary Asia helped lift earnings beyond analyst expectations in the third quarter.(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, file)

I’m sure we all enjoyed the little repartee between President Trump and the Fourth Estate last week when he asked about various possibilities in treating the Wuhan Virus that is killing so many of our citizens. He discussed Ultraviolet Light, Sunlight, and the use of disinfectants. The part about disinfectants is what really got the left stirred up

“And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that, so that you’re going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me.”

Now, from my seat (on the couch next to Her Majesty) watching that press briefing, I clearly understood what the President was doing (all later disclaimers to the contrary). He was asking a question. The basis for all scientific inquiry starts with asking, “What?” “Why” “How” and/or “What if…?” It was a perfectly legitimate thing to do, to discourse in layman’s terms on national TV and give a sense of hope to the people instead of technical or focused group jargon. And as we all know, it turns out “there is a way,” several in fact.

Read: Opinion: Trump Rolls the Media Again, This Time About Disinfectants


President Trump is good at asking the right question at the right time, even if the media is too ill-informed to understand it. One such case involves what I refer to as, “the tyranny of affluence” in the medical community. The First World, with the United States as the most brilliant diadem in that particular necklace, is a sparkling example of this.

The United States uses its affluence to combat infection. Instead of resharpening needles and scalpels and then sterilizing them in the autoclave, we rip open the package, pull out a sterile knife, go to cutting and when done, dispose of it. I remember thinking that this was wasteful when I was down in Central America filming U.S. Doctors doing surgery on indigent patients. They would rip open the package, use the tool and throw it away…to be later recovered by the locals for their use.

I understand that for the First World, this is a more cost-effective method to ensure sterile equipment. But in this just-in-time society of ours, we don’t normally stock enough needles, scalpels, or PPE to last through a major pandemic. It’s hard to ramp up production of something that although considered a “throwaway” item,” is still pretty expensive and not to be kept on hand at stock levels that would break the bank.

So, when a shortage of N95 masks presented itself as a problem, all the medical community knew, was what they knew…what they had experienced. If we need more, then we buy more and wait until it gets here. With the sheer volume of patients going through their facilities, the hard-working medical providers were burning through PPE at a rapid rate and it was taking the supply chain some time to ramp up.


Then, President Trump, the businessman, not the doctor asked a simple question, “Why don’t we clean them and reuse them?” Of course, he was immediately excoriated, loudly and long by the press, punditry, and various Democrat straphangers such as MSN, Bill Gates’ personal mouthpiece. From MSN

It is unclear which type of mask the President was describing, but US Food and Drug Administration guidelines for the common N95 respirator masks state they “should not be shared or reused.”
Neither the FDA nor Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines suggest the possibility of sanitizing masks for safe reuse.

After beating around the bush, the article finally admits that there are actually CDC guidelines for doing just what President Trump suggested.

In fact, the CDC’s guidance on coronavirus does mention “limited re-use of facemasks,” but cautions “it is unknown what the potential for contact transmission is” for coronavirus. It also states that “not all facemasks can be re-used”
The CDC guidelines do address suggestions for possible reuse of N95 masks, including the use of a cleanable face shield.

Read: Despite federal guidelines, Trump suggests ‘sanitizing’ and reusing medical masks

Well, it turns out, President Trump asked exactly the right question. Now, N95 masks are being cleaned and reused, giving the supply chain time to catch up. In a rich country such as ours, we often become over-reliant on a throw-away culture. We rarely fix things anymore. In times of crisis, a businessman who has been attuned to costs, time schedules, and supply chain issues, can often be the right one to ask the right question at the right time. In this case, at least, President Trump asked the question…the question that freed the medical supply chain from some of the tyranny of affluence…and got N95 masks where they needed to be.



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