12 May 2020

PPE guidelines leave businesses confused, out of pocket

6:50 pm on 12 May 2020

Private businesses working in close contact with people must buy personal protective equipment (PPE) themselves, and many have, in the lead up to alert level 2.

Health workers take part in ICU training for Covid-19 at Hutt Hospital.

This is the sort of PPE that health workers use - pictured here during ICU training for Covid-19 at Hutt Hospital. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Updated government guidelines have now left some businesses with too much PPE, and others fearing they will not have enough.

Others about reopen their doors say there was a lack of clear guidance on what level of protection was expected.

Chiropractor oversupplies on PPE

A chiropractor said she had over-stocked on PPE gear because guidelines were more relaxed than initially expected for working at alert level 2.

Chiropractors do not tend to deal with bodily fluids or aerosols, meaning they did not need as much PPE as, for example, dentists.

Wellington chiropractor Louise Blair had already bought six boxes of facemasks weeks ago, because she knew they would sell out.

"You bought in the PPE and now you don't need it. So I've spent $500 - which is not that much, but it is when you've had no income for eight weeks - on masks that we're now told at the last minute we don't need."

She estimated she had spent $1000 in total on protective gear, including gloves.

Blair said that although the guidelines stated masks should be worn around vulnerable patients, the details were not clear.

"It's very, very hard to find information on - if I put a mask on to see you and you're vulnerable and you decide to wear it - obviously your mask would go in the bin, but would I put my mask on a hook and then put it back on?

"I don't know, so we're assuming that it's a new mask for every vulnerable patient."

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The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said detailed guidelines were still being developed for people working in close contact industries and would be released "soon".

Dentists fear running out of full PPE

The New Zealand Dental Association said in urgent situations during lockdown, dentists could get PPE from their district health boards, but chief executive David Crum said they must otherwise carry their own supply, and there was not much left.

"The unknown is what individual dentists are holding within the cupboards in their practices. But I've talked to all the dental industry supply countries and at the most there's two-and-a half to three weeks' supply."

At alert level 2, dentists could go back to using standard surgical masks, as opposed to N-95s that had to be used during lockdown, Dr Crum said, but it still would not be enough.

The package of the N95 mask states the PPE item is not for re-use.

The package of the N95 mask states the PPE item is not for re-use. Photo: Supplied

"Even moving ahead with the normal PPE ... unless that [supply] changes we're back to finding it pretty difficult to be able to treat patients with the use of PPE."

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Beauty industry uncertain about rules

Those in the beauty industry said they had not received clear guidance yet, so they were taking precautions anyway - but that came at a cost.

Wellington stylist Erin Tijsen Refuge Hair Boutique said she had four boxes of facemasks, but she was not sure if she will need any of them.

"We've got everything and yes we will be wearing masks if we have to but they haven't clearly said 'hairdressers wear masks'.

"We're ready for it, it's just a little confusing at the moment."

The small town of Katikati in the Bay of Plenty has had no cases of Covid-19, and yet a beauty salon there is still taking extra precautions.

Suzanne Bullivant of Dreamers said she had spent lockdown working out how to do spa treatments - including things like Botox - safely while in close contact with people.

Clients and staff would wear fresh masks for all treatments, and all PPE and a disposable bedsheet would go in the bin once the client left.

"When we're doing facials we'll be masked up but also have like a shield mask on and that will give everyone more protection."

Bullivant said about half the cost of the extra hygiene measures would be passed on to clients.

As much as they were keen to get the tills ringing, she hoped people would heed the prime minister's advice to stay away if they were sick.

"I just think it's been that Kiwi thing of 'oh look, I've got a bit of a cold and I'll be right and I'll come in and get my eyebrows and whatever'. I think they're the sorts of things we'd like to see change permanently anyway."

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