The U.S. medical stockpile has removed 25 million out of 26 million isolation gowns from its inventory while experts determine if they adequately protect health workers.
The decision to pull the gowns for further testing follows concerns raised over the government’s contracting processes and safety of personal protective gear critical for workers on the front lines of the pandemic. If workers wear a gown without the correct level of protection for a procedure, it puts them at risk of exposure to a virus like the one that causes Covid-19.
The Department of Health and Human Services is looking to validate if the gowns in stock meet Level 2 protection, an agency spokesperson said.
The different levels of the gowns tell a worker what amount of protection they will provide based on the anticipated risk of exposure to a fluid. A Level 1 gown is intended for basic patient care or transport, a Level 2 for procedures like drawing blood or inserting an IV, a Level 3 for trauma patient care, and a Level 4 for surgery.
Once the HHS confirms the gowns provide adequate protection, they can be “rotated back into deployable inventory,” the spokesperson said.
Gown Makers Untested
An independent health safety nonprofit found last November that half of a set of disposable hospital gowns it tested didn’t meet the level of protection they claimed according to standards set by the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation—the same ones used by the Food and Drug Administration.
The federal government has turned to companies that just began making PPE during the pandemic. However, those companies may be untested in terms of their ability to deliver quality gowns.
The stockpile bought more than 80 million isolation gowns from a variety of untested companies in September 2020. The gowns delivered from that contract, awarded by the Defense Logistics Agency, “have not been deployed,” the HHS spokesperson said, attributing the lack of distribution to a lower demand for gowns from states and localities.
“The SNS has not deployed significant amounts of PPE in the past 60 days,” the spokesperson said.