Since March 2020, healthcare professionals have been fighting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
to save lives amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Public appreciation and support for frontline
workers has been strong, with evening clapping and cheering becoming a ritual for many
people around the world. But applause isn’t enough to protect the millions of doctors, nurses
and other clinical staff who face exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) on a daily basis.
Over 290,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed among healthcare workers in the USA
alone since the beginning of the pandemic, including 866 deaths, according to a report by the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dated December 3 rd , 2020 1 . Data published
by Amnesty International set the global toll of COVID-19-related mortality among healthcare
workers at 7000 deaths worldwide by early September 2020 2 . In the same vein, an article
published in Lancet estimated that frontline workers had a 3.4-fold higher risk of SARS-CoV-2
infection than the general population 3 .
“You’re basically right next to the nuclear reactor”, said Dr. Cory Deburghgraeve, a young
anesthetist whose job entails intubating coronavirus patients, in an interview granted to the
Washington Post 4 . But risk of infection is not the only threat that frontline workers face: recent
research shows a high incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder in healthcare staff working
with COVID-19 patients 5 . Clinicians also report emotional health problems such as anxiety and
discouragement due being avoided as ‘contagious’ by the very people they are risking their
lives to serve. In a study by Taylor et al 6 , 33% of the surveyed population admitted to avoiding
healthcare workers for fear of infection, while 34% thought that hospital workers were likely
to transmit COVID-19.However, the truth is that COVID-19 patients pose a far greater threat to healthcare workers
than the latter pose to the community. Anesthetists, pulmonologists, emergency room and ICU
staff are particularly at risk because of intense working conditions and high-risk aerosol-
generating procedures (including endotracheal intubation, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and
non-invasive ventilation), not to mention the widespread shortage of personal protective
From the beginning of the pandemic, doctors and medical associations have
spoken out against the shortage of PPE, which makes an already high-risk setting even more
dangerous. An international survey from the Journal of Critical Care published in June 2020
concluded that 50% of respondents suffered shortage of PPE in their workplaces 7 . According to
the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America 8 , shortages have been reported for N95
respirators, surgical masks, gowns, gloves, eye protection and alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Although the situation has improved when compared with the start of the COVID-19
pandemic, results from a survey by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and
Epidemiology published in December 2020 show that 51% of specialists in preventive medicine
are still concerned about their facilities’ ability to adequately protect healthcare personnel 9 .
The cost of PPE has grown since March 2020, due to increased demand and subsequent
shortages. According to a review by the American Hospital Association 10 , the cost of PPE is
estimated at $25.58 per hospital bed/day. It is money well spent, though, as each healthcare
worker who tests positive for COVID-19 means either hiring new staff or paying existing
workers for overtime hours – besides the personal and emotional impact of SARS-CoV-2
infection on patients and their colleagues.
Spending on PPE and increased costs due to COVID-19 victims among healthcare workers are two of the many factors leading a staggering $202.6
billion in losses incurred by American hospitals and health systems during the first four months
of the pandemic alone, with an additional loss of $120.5 billion estimated between June and
December 2020 11 . These figures reflect a worldwide crisis, with the Spanish government
spending over €578 million on PPE alone during the first month of the pandemic 12 , and the UK
spending £12.5 billion on PPE – of which only 10% had been delivered to the British National
Health Service trusts and other frontline organizations as of July 2020 13 .
However, despite being an indispensable aid towards keeping healthcare workers safe from
COVID-19, PPE does not provide infallible protection from SARS-CoV-2 14 , 15 . Clinicians deserve
the maximum possible level of security, especially in high-risk procedures such as endotracheal
intubation. This is one of the key motivations behind the Airway Shield TM : our technology
provides an innovative, low-cost, and effective solution for minimizing the risks of
endotracheal intubation, while facilitating the procedure itself.
“It’s essential that we bring forward the best ideas and innovations to support the
development of new and effective treatments”, says Food and Drug Administration
commissioner Stephen Hahn, M.D. 16 The same applies to developing new and effective
technology to protect frontline workers. Clapping and cheering can indeed raise morale, but
our healthcare professionals deserve – and need – more than applause to stay safe from
3 Nguyen, L. H., Drew, D. A., Graham, M. S., Joshi, A. D., Guo, C. G., Ma, W., … & Kwon, S. (2020). Risk of
COVID-19 among front-line health-care workers and the general community: a prospective cohort study.
The Lancet Public Health, 5(9), e475-e483.
5 Johnson, S. U., Ebrahimi, O. V., & Hoffart,