TNO, Dutch PEROSH member, assisted with study on cooling vests for COVID-19 nursing staff

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The Netherlands – Cooling vests during a COVID-19 shift ensure that nursing staff experiences less heat during their work and are therefore able to carry out their tasks more comfortably and pleasantly. During their shift, they wear protective clothing for three hours in a row, under which the temperature can rise to as much as 36 degrees Celsius. The cooling vests provide such cooling that they are now part of the standard work clothing for nurses in the COVID nursing departments of the Radboudumc.

Due to the high contagiousness of COVID-19, care staff have to work in protective but hardly ventilating clothing. Good protective clothing is essential for their work, but the temperature under these suits can reach up to 36 degrees, leading to reduced comfort. The cooling vests, actually developed for top athletes at the Tokyo Olympics, were adapted and prepared for use in COVID care.

Cooling vests for top athletes

Thijs Eijsvogels, exercise physiologist and project leader of the Olympic Games project Thermo Tokyo, explains: “The top sport cooling vests were not immediately suitable for use, because they were designed to cool quickly before or after a physical effort. COVID care involves long-term use, with the vests being worn during care activities. The vests remain cool for a longer period of time”.

While the cooling vests were already in use, a study was being carried out into their effects. In this COOLVID study, carried out by TNO and Radboudumc, seventeen nurses from the Radboudumc were followed, working in COVID care. They were followed for two days; one day with and one day without a cooling vest. They wore the vest over their medical clothing and under protective clothing. The measurements included body temperature and heart rate, as well as subjective measurements such as comfort and heat experience.

Less heat during a shift

The results, now published in Temperature, show that the body temperature of the participants increased slightly, but not enormously, despite the fact that the temperature under the protective clothing did. In other words, the cooling vest had little effect on body temperature. However, the heart rate was a few beats per minute lower on the days the cooling vest was worn. But the biggest difference was in the subjective experience of the care providers. 

Yannick de Korte, PhD student at the physiology department and fellow researcher at the COOLVID study: “Without a cooling vest, almost 90% of nursing staff experienced discomfort and warmth. With cooling vests only 20-30% of the participants experience this. This means that the conditions under which they have to do their work are perceived as more pleasant and comfortable. Almost everyone says: “I can work with a cool vest as I normally do without protective clothing”.

Medical Heat Stress

The COOLVID study was carried out within the Medical Heat Stress project, by TNO, as part of its brains4corona programme, and the Radboudumc, building on the Thermo Tokyo project. The study was funded by ZonMw from the Netherlands. The researchers have developed an infographic for the use of the cooling vests, which is translated into 9 languages and is supported by EU Horizon 2020 (HeatShield #668786).

About the publication

Publication in Temperature: Cooling vests alleviate perceptual heat strain perceived by COVID-19 nurses – Johannus Q. de Korte, Coen C.W.G. Bongers, Milène Catoire, Boris R.M. Kingma, Thijs M.H. Eijsvogels.

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