Q&A: PPE and COVID-19

June 1, 2020
Answers to your most pressing questions.

Contributors: Karen Lehtonen, vice president of research & development; Alysha Gray, product marketing director of PPE; Anna Schlotterbeck, senior product marketing manager of TotalCare

How should I refer to this virus and disease as it relates to PPE?

Chances are, you have heard the terms “new coronavirus,” “novel coronavirus” and “COVID-19” all used interchangeably—and honestly, it’s fine to use any of those in conversation with your friends and family as they will understand what you mean. But remember: the novel/new coronavirus or SARS-CoV2 refers to the virus itself, while COVID-19 refers to the disease that it causes in humans. PPE helps protect you from the virus, so you don’t get COVID-19.

What are the different NFPA standards that can be referenced that deal with viral protection?

First, let’s address the test method referenced in the NFPA standards to assess viral penetration, ASTM F1671. This is a 60-minute viral penetration test. The barriers in PPE that are certified to meet NFPA 1999, 1994, 1971 and 1951 are all tested to this method, and we know they protect against HIV, hepatitis, SARS and Ebola. The novel coronavirus and SARS are from the same family of viruses. The previous SARS virus is an even smaller molecule than the COVID-19 molecule, so, although most PPE has not been tested specifically against SARS-CoV2—as that’s all still very new—it does stand to reason it will block that larger but more infectious molecule.

(Further details regarding each of these standards can be found on the LION COVID-19 resources webpage at lionprotects.com/covid19.)

Does structural turnout gear provide protection against the virus?

The moisture barrier in your structural firefighting turnout gear provides viral penetration protection against bloodborne pathogens reaching your skin. However, wearing your turnout gear, although a good protector for your other clothing and your skin, is probably overkill. Structural turnout gear does not provide any face covering or respiratory protection. Additionally, even though the outer shell will likely take the brunt of the exposure, the entire garment would need to be cleaned and decontaminated before wearing again, as pathogens can pass through the outer shell and deposit onto the liner.

Is LION RedZone turnout gear or Particulate Blocking Hood more protective against COVID-19 than general turnout gear?

The RedZone Contaminant Control package in LION’s turnout uses Dupont’s Nomex Nano Flex in the PPE interface areas; Stedair Prevent is utilized throughout the entire RedZone hood. Both products are particulate-blocking layer materials only and do not offer viral or bloodborne pathogen penetration protection in the same way that a certified moisture barrier does. Therefore, the particulate-blocking features cannot be claimed to offer viral or bloodborne pathogen-penetration protection. However, from a particle-blocking perspective, we know the following:

  • Generally, viruses range from about 20 nm to 400 nm in size
  • The SARS-CoV2 virus is about 120 nm in size
  • Bacteria are in the 1,000s of nm
  • The RedZone particulate-blocking hood blocks 99 percent of particulates sized 100 nm to 1,000 nm (0.1 to 1 microns)
  • The RedZone Contaminant Control Package’s particulate-blocking features block 99.0–99.9 percent of particulates sized 100 nm to 1,000 nm (0.1 to 1 microns)

This indicates these materials in the hood and at the turnout PPE interface areas can be effective in offering a primary shield for dermal protection. Reducing skin contamination can further decrease the spread from exposed skin to your face, where the virus can enter through your eyes, nose and mouth.

Additionally, neither of these products are tested nor meet the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health requirements for an N95 mask. The requirement for an N95 mask is to block 95 percent of particles 300 nm (0.3 micron) or larger; the aforementioned RedZone particulate materials have not been tested for proper airflow rates and other protective properties relevant to N95 masks.

Do boots or gloves provide protection against the virus?

Structural gloves, such as LION’s Commander Ace or Primus, do offer viral protection because of the moisture barrier. It is important that they be cleaned and decontaminated if exposed. The LION Bravo EMS gloves also include a moisture barrier and are certified to meet NFPA 1999 as a work glove. Gloves should also be cleaned and decontaminated if exposed.  

Structural boots, such as the LION by Thorogood QR14 or Knockdown Elite, have moisture barriers that have viral-penetration protection. Cleaning and decontaminating footwear is important so consider rubber boots, such as the LION by Thorogood Hellfire, because they can easily be cleaned and decontaminated over and over.

How do I clean and decontaminate gear that’s been exposed or contaminated?  

Our LION TotalCare team has done a lot of great work to answer this question, putting together the PPE Exposure Response checklist found on page A10 of this supplement. Follow the guidelines on our website, lionprotects.com/covid19, that reference NFPA 1851, 2020 edition instructions and the list of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved sanitizers, which our team has also further narrowed down for simplicity and to include those approved specifically for use against human coronaviruses.  

The safest method for disinfection and sanitization of exposed or potentially exposed PPE is to work with a verified independent service provider (ISP). Whenever possible, refer to the manufacturer’s cleaning and sanitizing/disinfecting instructions as well as the 2020 Edition of the NFPA 1851: Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting. A verified ISP will use a disinfection or sanitization process for suspected or known contaminants or other viruses and bacteria. In addition, LION TotalCare uses ozone in every extractor cleaning cycle to treat for biohazards. This cleaning agent is extremely effective, nontoxic and chemical-free while providing 99.999 percent sanitization from germs, viruses and bacteria. This ozone process exceeds NFPA 1851, 2020 Edition’s requirement for sanitization without using high wash temperatures that, over time, can shorten the life of your PPE.  

If you do not have an ISP nearby and you need to handle the contaminated gear in-house, start by bagging, sealing and isolating exposed gear. Before handling, don proper PPE and spray the outside of the bag with antiviral/antibacterial spray. Submerge the bag that holds the gear inside a decontamination barrel that contains an EPA-approved sanitizer. While submerged, open the bag and submerge the gear completely. Set your timer and follow all the appropriate instructions listed by the sanitizing product. It is very important that you follow the instructions from the sanitizer manufacturer related to dilution rate and dwell time for most effective use. Not following the instructions could damage your PPE or, worse, render the sanitization process ineffective.  

Also, make sure to separate your liners and shells and then continue the laundering process according to NFPA 1851, 2020 Edition requirements. 

Can I soak my PPE in a solution of sanitizer and then perform an Advanced Clean?

Yes, however, you must verify that the sanitizer is on the EPA list and is proven to be effective against the specific contaminant. You must also follow the dilution and dwell time for the product. Reference NFPA 1851 A. for additional information.

Should EMS gear be cleaned differently than firefighter turnout gear?

Whether it’s structural firefighter turnout gear, EMS gear, StationWear™, gloves or boots, each might require different care based on the materials used. Follow the steps outlined in NFPA 1851 2020 Edition and the manufacturer’s user guides for appropriate cleaning agents, sanitizers or disinfectants and processes.

Can I use bleach to clean my turnout gear?

Bleach is never recommended for use on turnout gear, as it degrades the materials significantly, making it far less effective at keeping you safe.

What’s the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting?

In general, sanitization is most often applied to porous surfaces, such as the fabrics and textiles associated with garments, helmets textile components, gloves, footwear and hoods, whereas disinfection is applied to hard surfaces, such as helmets' shells.

Sanitization reduces the number of microorganisms (e.g., bacteria, viruses) to a safe level, generally defined by the EPA as 99.9 percent. Disinfection kills or inactivates all microorganisms as indicated on the specific label or the product (typically to 99.9999 percent). It is important that cleaning be performed along with either sanitization or disinfection as appropriate for the PPE item.

Are there specific sprays/disinfectants and techniques we can use on our EMS gear and turnouts that will effectively decontaminate without degrading the material? Laundering after each incident is not practical.

Unfortunately, currently, there are no sprays for preliminary exposure reduction (PER) that have been proven to be effective against the virus.

Can you effectively use UV light to decontaminate PPE, and what are the implications for breakdown of the PPE because of UV exposure?

We’ve been asked this a lot recently, and regardless of where things shake out with future studies on ultraviolet light’s effectiveness at killing the virus (and its potential risks to humans), it is NOT recommended to use UV/UVC light to decontaminate PPE. Many of the components used in PPE are particularly sensitive to UV light, and, therefore, this method of decontamination should not be used.

We heard estimates of the lifespan of the virus on several different surface types. Do we know what the average lifespan of the virus is on turnout gear fabric, such as Nomex?

Currently, no studies have been done regarding how long the virus lives on textiles, such as Nomex, etc. If studies are conducted, we’ll be sure to update our webpage with additional information and resources as soon as available.    

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