It is of course worth remembering that women can and do still die from this disease. As I have been writing this newsletter I have seen two breaking stories about women who have died from Covid-19. The first, a 21 year-old woman
who is apparently the youngest person with no pre-existing health conditions to die in the UK, and a 36 year-old
who was not tested but whose symptoms certainly did match Covid-19 (her story is particularly awful: she was told she was not a priority and died the next day – and her husband is diabetic. Hopefully there will be an investigation into what went wrong here so this kind of mistake won’t be repeated.)
And as I wrote last week
, because women make up the majority of frontline healthcare workers and carers, both paid and unpaid, women are more physically exposed to Covid-19, as indeed they are in all disease outbreaks.
[Women] also make up the majority of ‘traditional birth attendants, nurses and the cleaners and laundry workers in hospitals, where there is risk of exposure’, particularly given these kinds of workers ‘do not get the same support and protection as doctors, who are predominantly men’. (IW, p.299)
In Italy, the latest figures show that nearly 1 in 10
of those infected are healthcare workers – and of those healthcare workers 65% are women
. This is almost a direct reversal of the infection rate in the general population where nearly 60% of those infected are men. Of course infection rates are not currently conclusive given not everyone who has Covid-19 is being tested, but the inverse proportions are nevertheless striking.
This is all of particular concern because as I explained in Invisible Women, the vast majority of women who work in jobs that require Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) wear PPE that has not been designed for female bodies. And as I touched on briefly last week, this seems no different when it comes to healthcare workers – even though the majority of healthcare workers are women. Numerous women have told me that they can’t get any of the PPE masks to fit their faces.
I’ve been tried with all three different PPE masks available and none fit with a good enough seal. Been told to use a surgical mask if I have to. So many other women in my department are having the same problems
My sister is an itu nurse, only 25% of them have masks that fit
I have been fitted before when we have had other virus outbreaks - swine flu, etc., and none of the 3 mask types fitted me but I was able to avoid exposure to infected patients as we weren’t overly busy or short staffed. I dread to think what is going on now.
Work in pharma - women often fail face fit tests , also most lab goggles leave gaps and lab coats don’t fit properly , PPE is designed for men
Gloves are also a problem…
I rarely got the glove size I needed (5) when a hospital doc, bc many hospitals only stock 6 & up. I have small hands, but not freakishly so. This is a patient safety issue, bc it’s much harder to do delicate procedures well in gloves that are too big.
Naturally, it is the women’s fault for having those atypical female-shaped bodies
The fit tester (a man) told me my face was the wrong shape
when I failed the fit test, my charming male boss said “Why don’t they fit you? It’s not like you’re weird looking!”
I feel like the worst mask-fit tester in the world because I can’t get my team through! I tell my colleagues it’s because we’re so female-dominated as a profession, but it’s immensely reassuring to hear that might not just be something I made up…
I was a scientist - I’m a woman. We use the same PPE as medics. I couldn’t get a mask that would fit my face despite testing loads with a mask fitter. ‘Your face is just too small’
There is nothing wrong with women’s bodies. They are the bodies that are providing about 75% of the care, both paid and unpaid, that are getting us through this crisis. They deserve better. If you agree, tell Matt Hancock,
the Secretary of State for Health & Social Care. This is a public health crisis and we need to keep health workers safe, so they can carry on keeping the rest of us safe.