Newsy Investigation: Health Care Workers Need More Medical Gowns

Doctors and nurses are wearing donated graduation gowns and Tyvek house wrap while waiting for millions of more medical gowns.
Posted at 4:06 PM, May 14, 2020

Hospitals are struggling to find medical gowns to protect doctors and nurses caring for coronavirus patients.

"I would say gowns are definitely in shortest supply right now," said Rick Lucas, an ICU nurse and president of the Ohio State University Nurses Organization.

In North Carolina, the health department reports it has enough masks, N95 respirators and gloves to last for weeks, but no gowns on hand to fulfill the more than 7,000 gowns requested by health care providers each day.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said it has received reports of health care facilities unable to procure gowns on their own.

There are more than 109,000 requests for gowns at, a crowdsourced database personal protective equipment needs.

“Over time, requests for PPE have shifted from masks to gowns,” said Dr. Megan Ranney, co-founder of the group.

Hospitals did not need gowns in mass quantities until COVID-19 came along, so they were not stocked like gloves, said Dr. Val Griffeth, another co-founder of GetUsPPE.

“Things like gowns and respirators and simple surgical masks have really spiked in terms of demand,” Griffeth said.

But masks and respirators can be used, cleaned, and used again.

Many gowns are disposable and designed to be used just once.

“When you put the gown back on it’s already contaminated,” Griffeth said. “If you then put it on improperly, you’re going to contaminate yourself."

Demand for gowns is likely to increase as elective procedures unrelated to the virus resume.

Dentists have said the shortage of gowns and other PPE may delay their reopenings.

Mike Alkire is the president of Premier, which works with manufacturers and distributors of PPE. 

He says there are too few places making the raw material needed for gowns, also used to make masks.

“The primary good to make up a gown is called SMS,” Alkire said. “That SMS for the most part, outside a couple of domestic manufacturers, is produced in like five factories in China and India.”

As gowns become available, they can be priced out of range for health departments, or just impossible to find.

“People are going to go out and overbuy all these products just like what happens at your grocery store, and what happens at Costco,” Alkire said. “So that puts a hell of a lot of strain on supply chain that’s already somewhat fragile.”

So people are getting creative to fill the gown gap.

Volunteers at the Corvallis Brigade in Oregon are stitching together makeshift gowns from Tvyek house wrap designed to keep moisture out of homes.

In Vermont, a physician assistant created Gowns4Good, recycling donated graduation gowns by the thousand.

Like so many other places, they have more requests for gowns than they can fill.

FEMA told Newsy it is working to expand production of gowns.

FEMA has awarded contracts to make 90 million re-usable gowns over the next 90 days, a statement from the agency said.