What Are Isolation Gowns?

COVID-19 has put a critical focus on infection control and personal protective equipment (PPE) as Senior Living communities seek to protect residents, staff and visitors. Choosing PPE gowns, or isolation gowns, can be tough during conventional capacity times when PPE is in full supply. During crisis capacity times, the decision can be even more difficult with the need for dozens of isolation gowns per day or even per shift. Here are some key questions and considerations.

What Are Isolation Gowns?

Isolation gown purpose is to help protect your frontline caregivers and staff from infectious droplets, fluid penetration and solids, and help prevent the transfer of micro-organisms to vulnerable residents.

There are two main categories of isolation gowns intended for healthcare purposes: surgical and non-surgical.

  • A surgical gown is a personal protective garment intended to be worn by health care personnel during surgical procedures to protect both the patient and health care personnel from the transfer of microorganisms, body fluids, and particulate matter.
  • Non-surgical, or isolation, gowns are Class I devices (exempt from premarket review) intended to protect the wearer from the transfer of microorganisms and body fluids in low or minimal risk patient isolation situations. Non-surgical gowns are not worn during surgical procedures, invasive procedures, or when there is a medium to high risk of contamination.

Know the Level of Protection Standards

The FDA recognizes the consensus standard American National Standards Institute/Association of the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (ANSI/AAMI) PB70:2003, “Liquid barrier performance and classification of protective apparel and drapes intended for use in health care facilities.”

There are four levels under the standard:

  • Level 1: Minimal risk, to be used, for example, during basic care, standard isolation, cover gown for visitors, or in a standard medical unit.
  • Level 2: Low risk, to be used, for example, during blood draw, suturing, in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), or a pathology lab.
  • Level 3: Moderate risk, to be used, for example, during arterial blood draw, inserting an intravenous (IV) line, in the emergency room, or for trauma cases
  • Level 4: High risk, to be used, for example, during long, fluid intense procedures, surgery, when pathogen resistance is needed or infectious diseases are suspected (non-airborne)

For Senior Living, Level 1 basic fluid resistance is generally desirable to combat the spread of COVID-19. Having a gown with a higher level rating isn’t essential as there isn’t extensive risk of blood or other bodily fluids being transferred. For more advanced fluid-resistance needs, consider a surgical gown with a higher-level rating.

What’s on the Product Label is More Important Than the Product Name

For these purposes, we use the term isolation gown. But you should pay less attention to a product name (e.g., isolation gown, nursing gown, procedural gown, etc.) and more attention to function, intended use and what level of protection is provided. The label or packaging will call this out.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, primary objectives are to protect frontline Senior Living staff from the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the accidental transfer of COVID-19 to other residents and staff. Level 1 basic fluid resistance in a non-surgical isolation gown is most likely sufficient. Having a surgical gown with a higher level rating isn’t essential as there isn’t extensive risk of blood or other bodily fluids being transferred.