The U.S. is seven months into the coronavirus crisis and yet a critical shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) remains.

As fall and the cold and flu season approach, which will increase demand on health systems, many doctors and nurses continue to reuse single use N-95s. A recent survey of 20,000 nurses conducted by the ANA cited that  “1 in 3 nurses say they are ‘out’ or ‘short’ of N95 masks” and “68% of nurses say the practice of reusing single-use PPE, like N95 masks, is required.” An FDA report of medical device shortages on August 20, corroborated these shortages.  Politico has reported that the problem is exacerbated at “smaller and poorer hospitals” and that “a clear disparity has emerged and persisted” as “larger and richer hospitals and practices outbid their smaller peers.”

Schools are also scrambling to secure sufficient supplies of masks and hand sanitizer to enable safe reopening. With FEMA’s recent decision to not fund school safety measures, schools and families are assuming the cost of protecting students and teachers. A shortage of PPE presents a significant risk to older teachers and staff and to multigenerational families if children bring the virus home with them. It has been widely reported that risks for both children and adults are more pronounced in Black and Latinx households. 

Business steps up

How will we know when the PPE crisis has passed? According to research by Stop the Spread (STS), a coalition of 1,300+ CEOs and executives working to catalyze the private sector response to COVID-19, we can be confident that the PPE crisis has passed once key areas are addressed: stable and transparent pricing for PPE; robust and resilient supply chains; ability to track fraudulent PPE; widely available, accurate data on PPE availability to help forecast shortages.

To help attain success in the PPE market, STS has collaborated with partners such as C19 CoalitionProject N95, and the World Supply Chain Federation to push critical PPE to the most essential areas at fair prices, helping stabilize the market. The organization also worked with non-medical mask suppliers and manufacturers who pivoted operations to provide PPE, including Brooks BrothersRent the RunwayEagle Fabrics , Lucky Brand and VIDA. All told, STS spurred the manufacturing of more than 20 million units of personal protective equipment, including N95 face masks, face shields, and more.

Impact to fight COVID-19

Impact investors are also jumping into the fray. Through a partnership with STS and several other funding initiatives, ImpactAssets clients have invested and granted $213 million in three COVID-related critical needs areas, including supporting “front line heroes”; preserving the progress made towards climate change and social justice; and supporting individuals and small businesses who have been hit hardest by the economic crisis, particularly the unbanked, low-income communities and communities of color. The Global Impact Investing Network has also organized around the R3 Coalition to accelerate impact investments in response to COVID-19.

Here are three examples of impact investments in PPE:

Roots Studio

Roots Studio digitizes last-generation art from rural communities into an online library for licensing. The Heritage PPE Collections features art from tribal communities in India, Jordan, Ethiopia, China, and Panama, amongst others. Tribal communities have been severely affected during COVID-19. Roots Studio aims to provide these communities with steady income and protective wear. Thirty percent of the profits from each purchase are returned to the community and every artist receives protective wear featuring their artwork.

To the Market

Startup TO THE MARKET helps corporations source and purchase from ethical suppliers around the world. The company promotes transparent supply chains and provides overlooked suppliers, such as women-owned and operated factories and artisan groups, with access to the global supply chain. Through an investment from ImpactAssets Stop the Spread Fund, TO THE MARKET will expand services to hospital systems that have immediate procurement needs but are challenged to work with many suppliers’ pandemic-driven payment terms. TO THE MARKET has already vetted and approved more that 200 suppliers to see whether they could help meet unfulfilled demand for PPE and shipped more than 10 million units to hospitals throughout the U.S. 

The Community Purchasing Alliance 

The Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) leverages the buying power of community institutions to accelerate progress towards sustainability, equity, and justice. Its 121 member-owners and 160 total participating organizations include schools, faith-based organizations, unions, child-care and senior-care centers, and other local non-profits. CPA is organizing up to $1M of PPE purchases each month, directing at least 40% to businesses owned by people of color across all geographies and helping members save 10-40% on purchases. An investment through the ImpactAssets Stop the Spread Fund will enable CPA to expand, helping roughly 250 additional organizations purchase PPE.

“It is precisely in times like this that impact investors and philanthropists can make their greatest impact,” said ImpactAssets CEO Margret Trilli. “We all have more work to do to overcome the coronavirus pandemic, but investments in innovative social enterprises and partnerships with STS and business leaders are helping to fill the gap and drive innovation.”

Amy Bennett is the Chief Marketing Officer at ImpactAssets; Sharon Knight is Executive Director, Stop the Spread.