UC Berkeley Publishes Report on Economic and Health Benefits of a PPE Stockpile

On Wednesday, the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health and the UC Berkeley Labor Center published a report on the potential economic and health benefits of a personal protective equipment (PPE) stockpile in the state of California. The report draws upon the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, indicating the pandemic has exposed “tragic shortcomings in California’s preparedness for infrequent but catastrophic public health threats.” The report explores procurement of PPE supplies during pandemic and non-pandemic times, PPE shortages and impacts on healthcare service delivery, and COVID-19 cases among essential workers.

The report’s key findings include:

  • Potential Savings from Averting High-Priced Emergency PPE Contracts Dwarf the Budgetary Cost of Creating a PPE Stockpile at Normal Non-Pandemic Prices – Procuring an adequate PPE stockpile in advance at non-pandemic prices would have cost only 17 percent of the projected amount needed to procure the PPE at current pandemic-inflated prices. Maintaining a stockpile would be cheaper than real-time purchases even if it was not needed for another 35 years, and even if the state were fortunate enough to not need the stockpile for longer than that time period. According to the report, a PPE stockpile would be a highly financially prudent form of insurance.
  • Healthcare Access was Severely Affected in Early Months of the Pandemic in Part Due to Lack of Adequate PPE – Some 251,100 California healthcare workers received unemployment benefits during the pandemic. For every week earlier that these healthcare workers could return to work in the next pandemic if PPE were readily available at the beginning of the pandemic, the state would save approximately $93 million in unemployment insurance payments. This would additionally have substantial benefits in terms of improved healthcare access for routine, non-emergent care, including preventive health services.
  • At Least 20,860 Essential Worker-Related COVID-19 Cases May Have Been Avoidable if Proper PPE Had Been Available – With over 50,000 healthcare and other essential workers in California testing positive for COVID-19, available research suggests that adequate and appropriate use of PPE can largely mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among these populations. UC Berkeley conservatively estimates that nearly 21,000 COVID-19 cases could have been avoidable. It is likely that dozens of deaths among essential workers could have been avoided with proper use of PPE had an adequate stockpile been in place prior to the beginning of the pandemic.

In closing its report, UC Berkeley indicates that the human cost of inadequate PPE during the current pandemic has been “enormous” in terms of illness and death due to COVID-19, indirect health threats from reduced healthcare access, and employment and income loss due to furloughs. The total avoidable social costs of unemployment insurance payments, as well as the value of lost life, could easily reach the hundreds of millions of dollars in the next pandemic, making a PPE stockpile an urgent investment, according to the report. As researchers indicate, “both fiscal prudence and public health commonsense align in strongly recommending the establishment of a robust PPE stockpile for the future.”

The full UC Berkeley report is available here.