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Several fluid-resistant and impermeable protective clothing options are available in the marketplace for HCP. These include isolation gowns and surgical gowns. When selecting the most appropriate protective clothing, employers should consider all of the available information on recommended protective clothing, including the potential limitations. Nonsterile, disposable patient isolation gowns, which are used for routine patient care in healthcare settings, are appropriate for use by HCP when caring for patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. In times of gown shortages, surgical gowns should be prioritized for surgical and other sterile procedures. Current U.S. guidelines do not require use of gowns that conform to any standards.
Shift gown use towards cloth isolation gowns.
Reusable (i.e., washable) gowns are typically made of polyester or polyester- cotton fabrics. Gowns made of these fabrics can be safely laundered according to routine procedures and reused. Care should be taken to ensure that HCP do not touch outer surfaces of the gown during care.
Coveralls typically provide 360-degree protection because they are designed to cover the whole body, including the back and lower legs, and sometimes the head and feet as well. While the material and seam barrier properties are essential for defining the protective level, the coverage provided by the material used in the garment design, as well as certain features including closures, will greatly affect the protective level. HCP unfamiliar with the use of coveralls must be trained and practiced in their use, prior to using during patient care.
In the United States, the FPA 1999 standard specifies the minimum design, performance, testing, documentation, and certification requirements for new single-use and new multiple-use emergency medical operations protective clothing, including coveralls for HCP.
The majority of isolation gowns do not have a manufacturer-designated shelf life. However, consideration can be made to using gowns that do and are past their manufacturer-designated shelf life. If there is no date available on the gown label or packaging, facilities should contact the manufacturer.
Current guidelines do not require use of gowns that conform to any standards. In times of shortages, healthcare facilities can consider using international gowns and coveralls. Gowns and coveralls that conform to international standards, including with EN 13795 and EN14126, could be reserved for activities that may involve moderate to high amounts of body fluids.
Extended use of isolation gowns.
Consideration can be made to extend the use of isolation gowns (disposable or cloth) such that the same gown is worn by the same HCP when interacting with more than one patient known to be infected with the same infectious disease when these patients housed in the same location (i.e., COVID-19 patients residing in an isolation cohort). This can be considered only if there are no additional co-infectious diagnoses transmitted by contact (such as Clostridioides difficile) among patients. If the gown becomes visibly soiled, it must be removed and discarded as per usual practices.
Disposable gowns are not typically amenable to being doffed and re-used because the ties and fasteners typically break during doffing. Cloth isolation gowns could potentially be untied and retied and could be considered for re- use without laundering in between.
In a situation where the gown is being used as part of standard precautions to protect HCP from a splash, the risk of re-using a non-visibly soiled cloth isolation gown may be lower. However, for care of patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, HCP risk from re-use of cloth isolation gowns without laundering among (1) single HCP caring for multiple patients using one gown or (2) among multiple HCP sharing one gown is unclear. The goal of this strategy is to minimize exposures to HCP and not necessarily prevent transmission between patients. Any gown that becomes visibly soiled during patient care should be disposed of and cleaned.
Gowns should be prioritized for the following activities:
Surgical gowns should be prioritized for surgical and other sterile procedures. Facilities may consider suspending use of gowns for endemic multidrug resistant organisms (e.g., MRSA, VRE, ESBL-producing organisms).
In situation of severely limited or no available isolation gowns, the following pieces of clothing can be considered as a last resort for care of COVID-19 patients as single use. However, none of these options can be considered PPE, since their capability to protect HCP is unknown. Preferable features include long sleeves and closures (snaps, buttons) that can be fastened and secured.
Reusable patient gowns and lab coats can be safely laundered according to routine procedures.
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