According to a report published Wednesday, researchers from UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health and Center for Labor Research and Education found that the creation of a state stockpile of personal protective equipment, or PPE, for future pandemics or emergencies could have economic and health benefits.
The stockpile would consist of enough PPE to protect essential workers for at least 90 days of an emergency. According to the report, authored by UC Berkeley researchers William Dow, Kevin Lee and Laurel Lucia, having PPE on hand would allow essential workers to continue working with much less risk and would be economically beneficial to California.
The report estimates that more than 20,000 COVID-19 cases could have been averted if essential workers had access to PPE at the start of the pandemic.
In addition, the report states that many health care workers were furloughed because of the lack of PPE, partially resulting in more than 250,000 California health care workers receiving unemployment benefits.
According to the report, for every week earlier that these workers could return to work in the next pandemic, the state would save approximately $93 million in unemployment insurance payments.
California would have also saved money because of the increase in the cost of PPE during a pandemic, which Dow, a UC Berkeley professor of health policy and management, said he was surprised to learn.
“It’s not the case that it would have cost us money to save lives,” Dow said. “It would have actually saved money if we had purchased this PPE and stockpiled it at nonpandemic prices.”
The report cites the price of N95 masks increasing 465% during the COVID-19 pandemic — from $1.27 to $5.90 per mask — with similar trends for other types of PPE.
Purchasing PPE for California’s essential workers and related key populations would cost more than $808 million if procured at pandemic prices, according to the report. Procuring the same PPE at nonpandemic prices would cost only $134 million, or 17% of the cost at pandemic prices.
“In the best case scenario it would never be needed, in which case some might consider the premium cost ‘wasted’ since the pandemic-priced purchases would never be needed,” the report states. “But the COVID-19 pandemic has sadly illustrated how myopic it is to go ‘uninsured’ without an adequate PPE stockpile.”
This report was released as SB 275 is being discussed in the California Legislature.
The bill would require the state to create a 90-day supply of PPE for essential workers by June 1, 2023.
“We do not know when the next pandemic or health emergency will arise that will require PPE, but it will come,” the report states. “Both fiscal prudence and public health commonsense align in strongly recommending establishment of a robust PPE stockpile for the future.”