Many organizations have published guidelines for the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in medical settings. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Association of the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI): ANSI/AAMI PB70:2012 describes the liquid barrier performance and a classification of surgical and isolation gowns for use in health care facilities.
As with any type of PPE, the key to proper selection and use of protective clothing is to understand the hazards and the risk of exposure. Some of the factors important to assessing the risk of exposure in health facilities include source, modes of transmission, pressures and types of contact, and duration and type of tasks to be performed by the user of the PPE. (Technical Information Report (TIR) 11 [AAMI 2005]).
For gowns, it is important to have sufficient overlap of the fabric so that it wraps around the body to cover the back (ensuring that if the wearer squats or sits down, the gown still protects the back area of the body).
Nonsterile, disposable patient isolation gowns, which are used for routine patient care in healthcare settings, are appropriate for use by patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
While the transmissibility of COVID-19 is not fully understood, gowns are available that protect against microorganisms. The choice of gown should be made based on the level of risk of contamination. Certain areas of surgical and isolation gowns are defined as “critical zones” where direct contact with blood, body fluids, and/or other potentially infectious materials is most likely to occur. (ANSI/AAMI PB70).
If there is a medium to high risk of contamination and need for a large critical zone, isolation gowns that claim moderate to high barrier protection (ANSI/AAMI PB70 Level 3 or 4) can be used.
For healthcare activities with low, medium, or high risk of contamination, surgical gowns (ANSI/AAMI PB70 Levels 1-4), can be used. These gowns are intended to be worn by healthcare personnel during surgical procedures.
If the risk of bodily fluid exposure is low or minimal, gowns that claim minimal or low levels of barrier protection (ANSI/AAMI PB70 Level 1 or 2) can be used. These gowns should not be worn during surgical or invasive procedures, or for medium to high risk contamination patient care activities.
Gowns are easier to put on and, in particular, to take off. They are generally more familiar to healthcare workers and hence more likely to be used and removed correctly. These factors also facilitate training in their correct use.
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. Surgical/isolation gowns do not provide continuous whole-body protection (e.g., they have possible openings in the back, and typically provide coverage to the mid-calf only).
The level of heat stress generated due to the added layer of clothing is also expected to be less for gowns when compared to coveralls due to several factors, such as the openings in the design of gowns and total area covered by the fabric.
Check to see if your facility has guidance on how to don and doff PPE. The procedure to don and doff should be tailored to the specific type of PPE that you have available at your facility.
It is important for Health Care Providers (HCP) to perform hand hygiene before and after removing PPE. Hand hygiene should be performed by using alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60-95% alcohol or washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If hands are visibly soiled, soap and water should be used before returning to alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Unlike patient care in the controlled environment of a healthcare facility, care and transport by EMS present unique challenges because of the nature of the setting. Coveralls are an acceptable alternative to gowns when caring for and transporting suspect COVID-19 patients. While no clinical studies have been done to compare gowns and coveralls, both have been used effectively by healthcare workers in clinical settings during patient care. CDC’s Considerations for Selecting Protective Clothing used in Healthcare for Protection against Microorganisms in Blood and Body Fluids guidance provides a comparison between gowns and coveralls, including test methods and performance requirements. 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. This added coverage may be necessary for some work tasks involved in medical transport. However, coveralls may lead to increased heat stress compared to gowns due to the total area covered by the fabric. Training on how to properly remove (doff) a coverall is important to prevent self-contamination. Comparatively, gowns are easier to put on and, in particular, to take off.