UC Berkeley Researchers: State PPE Stockpile for Essential Workers Would Avert Illness and Unnecessary Costs in Next Pandemic

In a new report, researchers from UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health and Labor Center concluded “both fiscal prudence and public health commonsense align in strongly recommending establishment of a robust PPE stockpile for the future.” Their independent analysis comes as state legislators are considering a bill that would require the state to create a PPE stockpile sufficient to protect healthcare and other essential workers for at least 90 days of a future pandemic or health emergency. 

The report, “Economic and Health Benefits of A PPE Stockpile,” was written by William H. Dow, PhD, and Kevin Lee, MPH, of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, and Laurel Lucia, MPP, of the UC Berkeley Labor Center. The benefits of a statewide pandemic PPE stockpile the researchers found included: 

Cost savings: Procuring an adequate PPE stockpile would cost just 17% of the amount needed to procure it at current pandemic-inflated prices. For example, N95 masks that fetched a “midpoint” price of $1.27 a piece on the market pre-pandemic were purchased in a bulk contract by the federal government at a price of $5.90 for April delivery—a 465% markup. Surgical mask prices soared to 1,100% of the pre-pandemic price. 

“Maintaining an adequate PPE stockpile would be cheaper than real-time purchases even if a pandemic-level supply was not needed for another 35 years,” said Dow. “Even if California were fortunate enough to not need the stockpile for longer than that, it would be a highly financially prudent form of insurance.” 

Healthcare access: The report also found that if PPE were readily available at the start of the next pandemic, healthcare workers could return to work faster, improving access for routine healthcare and saving state dollars spent on unemployment insurance payments. During the COVID-19 pandemic thus far, more than 250,000 California healthcare workers have received unemployment payments. For every week earlier that this number of workers could return to work in the next pandemic if PPE were readily available at the start, the state would save approximately $93 million in unemployment payments. 

Protecting essential workers: The report also estimates that over 20,000 essential worker-related COVID-19 cases, and dozens of healthcare worker deaths, could have been prevented had an adequate PPE stockpile been available in California at the start of this pandemic. 

“The human cost of inadequate PPE has been enormous in terms of illness and death due to COVID-19,” said Dow. “We do not know when the next pandemic or health emergency will arise that will require PPE, but it will come. The establishment of a robust PPE stockpile makes sense from both a fiscal and public health standpoint.”


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