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Manufacturing Industry Updates

Textile Industry Focusing on Medical Garments Amid COVID-19 Crisis

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The supply shortages for doctors and nurses fighting the COVID-19 pandemic has focused new attention on the need for more reusable protective medical garments, according to the TRSA, the Alexandria, Va.-based association that represents the nearly $40-billion linen, uniform and facility services industry.

In a press release, the TRSA noted that the personal protective equipment (PPE) supporting frontline care providers that is in high demand includes isolation barrier gowns (ISO), surgical gowns, scrub suits and cubicle curtains. PPE protects healthcare workers as they treat patients.

“An isolation gown is the first defense for healthcare providers, patients, and visitors who spend time in a medical facility that faces the threat of emerging infectious diseases,” said Joe LaPorta, president and CEO of Healthcare Linen Services Group. “These gowns control and protect against infectious hazards in a medical workplace.”

David Potack, president of Unitex, a healthcare linen service which serves the hard-hit New York area, said reusable PPE items can be sanitized and used between 80 to 100 times versus only one time for a disposable item.

“Due to the shortage of disposable items, we have significantly accelerated the turn times to get reusable items back to the healthcare facilities we serve,” he added. “Reusable PPE items that can be quickly hygienically cleaned, processed and put back in a hospital’s inventory are a force multiplier in a crisis and are changing how people think about reusable PPE invention now and in the future.”

Reusable (i.e. washable) gowns are typically made of polyester or polyester-cotton fabrics and can be safely laundered and reused. “Our trucks are on the road daily and our laundries are working 24/7 to meet the needs of the healthcare facilities we serve,” LaPorta said. “During a pandemic, such as the one we are now experiencing, the disposable market and supply chain are not guaranteed especially when one country makes most of the disposable items.”

Halsey M. Cook, president and CEO of textile manufacturer Milliken & Co., said the company has focused its development and production processes to help fight COVID-19.

“Many of our U.S. customers are now manufacturing personal protective equipment, and we’re right alongside them, supplying the medical-grade, protective textiles they need,” he added.

Milliken’s BioSmart antimicrobial technology, for example, is used for scrubs, lab coats and hospital privacy curtains, harnessing the power of bleach to kill up to 99.9% of common bacteria on contact and making reusable items even safer and more effective.

Jeremy Fogel, vice president of the textiles division at Medline, said the company is increasing its manufacturing capacity for reusable isolation gowns, patient gowns, and scrubs to help support the needs of healthcare providers.

“Over the last several years, there has been a continued shift from reusable isolation gowns to disposable ones,” he added. “Due to the current crisis, hospitals should consider implementing a more diversified supply chain strategy in the future by moving to a hybrid program that uses a combination of disposable and reusable isolation gowns.”

Dan Schwartz, vice president of Fashion Seal Healthcare, said the company has experienced a tremendous increase in its garment orders for medical caregivers because of the pandemic for reusable isolation gowns,  scrub apparel, reusable masks and other reusable garments.

“While I can’t speak for the disposable market outside of the massive supply shortage we have seen, we do anticipate a larger need for reusable garments in the future and will continue to support our laundry and distributor partners with their efforts,” Schwartz added, noting that the current situation “teaches us” that medical products can’t simply be treated as just-in-time inventory.

“In the future, healthcare systems will need to work with their laundry partners and other suppliers to create inventory reserves that better satisfy their needs in an emergency,” Schwartz said.

Joseph Ricci,TRSA president and CEO, said there’s ample evidence that reusable medical textiles are better for the environment.

“The current pandemic and the sudden need for huge volumes of safety equipment is making the case that reusable items should be a major part of the nation’s stockpile and supply chain,” he noted.

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