High humidity, sweat take a toll on healthcare workers and their PPE kits
While the PPE gear could be used by a health care worker for six to eight hours in April and May, they currently need to be changed at least after every four hours as the person wearing them has to bear high perspiration levels inside them.Updated: Jul 07, 2020 13:14 IST
Fighting on the front lines as they treat patients of coronavirus (Covid-19) disease and try to contain the spread of the infection at the cost of making themselves vulnerable of contracting the virus, doctors and health care workers in the region have been battling one more challenge: rising temperatures and humidity levels and the resultant perspiration that makes working in the same personal protective equipment (PPE) suit difficult for long hours. The heat and especially the rising humidity levels, in the past five-six weeks, has spurred the demand for PPE gear at government-run Covid-19 facilities in the district as with the build-up of sweat inside them, the life of these kits has been reduced to almost as low as four hours, health officials said.
While the PPE gear could be used by a health care worker for six to eight hours in April and May, they currently need to be changed at least after every four hours as the person wearing them has to bear high perspiration levels inside them. Out of the 14,500 PPE kits used by health workers in government-run Covid-19 facilities so far since the outbreak of the disease in March, almost 42% were used in the month of June alone when the average humidity levels touched 66.63% and the maximum temperature hovered around 38.5 degree Celsius.
According to Dr Nepal Singh, Gautam Budh Nagar’s acting chief medical officer (CMO), over 6,200 PPE kits have been used in government-run Covid-19 facilities in June. “In April and May, the consumption of PPE kits was around 3,500 and 4,400, respectively. While the number of health care staff has increased by 10% in June compared to previous months, with the rise in temperatures, the demand for PPE kits has gone up by at least around 40%,” he said.The district currently has six government-run Covid-19 facilities, up from three such centres in April.
According to an analysis of data by India Meteorological Department, the average humidity levels saw a sharp spike of 15.9 percentage points from 50.65 % in May to 66.63% in June. According to the records, the maximum humidity in June oscillated between 71% and 100% throughout the month, while the minimum humidity oscillated between 35 % and 75%. In May, the maximum humidity was between 47% and 100 %, while the minimum levels ranged from 14% to 65%. The average humidity level in April was 56.88%.
The sharp rise in humidity in June was because of the 13 days of rain experienced caused by the western disturbances and then the arrival of monsoon. The maximum temperature experienced in June was 42 degree Celsius.
The problem of working in high humidity levels and high temperatures with the PPEs on is amplified by the restrictions on using centralised air-conditioning in isolation wards. “We use fans instead of centralised air conditioning and keep the windows open for better ventilation, but humidity levels have increased in the past few weeks. As a result, health care workers need to change their PPE kits at least twice and sometimes even thrice in an eight-hour shift,” he said. Centralised air-conditioning has been shut down keeping in line with the guidelines laid down by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
Reiterating that the demand of PPE kits has gone up with the rise in humidity, Dr Rakesh Gupta, director of Government Institute of Medical Sciences (GIMS) in Greater Noida, the biggest Covid-19 facility in Gautam Budh Nagar, said: “With the constant build-up of sweat inside the PPE kits, our doctors and other staff working in Covid-19 wards now have to change gear at least two times during their shifts. The daily consumption of PPE kits has now gone up to 150 per day in June from being around 100 per day in April and May,” he said. “As per the ICMR guidelines, we are not using centralised ACs in Covid-19 wards, and are using fans instead. Given the increased perspiration, our staff is very careful in maintaining adequate fluid levels. They are also taking light foods and ample amount of fluids like water, juices and milk,” he said.
The average humidity in the first week of July has been around 78%, while the average maximum temperatureat 38.2 degrees Celsius. The humidity levels will continue to rise gradually till September. “The humidity levels remain very high in July August and they start dropping in September as the monsoon withdraws,” Mahesh Palawat, director, private weather forecasting centre Skymet, said.
District magistrate Suhas LY, however, assured that Gautam Budh Nagar will not run out of PPE kits despite the increase in their rate of usage. “The supply chain and buffer stock of the PPE kits are maintained in such a way here that the district can never run out of them,” he said.
Meanwhile, a few Covid-dedicated hospitals in Noida have started setting up window ACs in their isolation wards. The spokesperson of Sharda hospital said a separate ward with window ACs is on the verge of completion. “Once it is be completed, we will shift our Covid-19 patients to the new ward,” he said.
(With inputs from Kushagra Dixit)