Facing Shortages, Feds Give Green Light to Decontaminate Used N95 Masks

A mask from the N95. In light of mask shortages, the United States government has decided to allow the use of a new system that decontaminates N95 respirators for reuse.

A mask from the N95. In light of mask shortages, the United States government has decided to allow the use of a new system that decontaminates N95 respirators for reuse.
Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

Faced with a serious shortage of masks and countless stories from frontline health workers who reuse face masks or use bandanas if they don’t have them, the US federal government is trying a new approach. If it cannot get enough new face masks, it will sanitize used masks.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Saturday authorized the emergency use of a new system developed by an Ohio-based R&D company Decontaminating Battelle used N95 respirators and frees them from biological contaminants, including the new corona virus. The company states that any Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System can clean up to 80,000 masks per day at full capacity.

To disinfect the masks, Battelle’s system uses concentrated vapor phase hydrogen peroxide and exposes the masks for two and a half hours to the validated concentration level. Battelle says this system can sanitize the same respirator multiple times without compromising performance. Each dust mask can be disinfected up to 20 times.

N95 masks are heavy masks used by health professionals which at least filter 95 percent of the very small particles. They are especially in demand during the Covid-19 pandemic because the virus is spreading respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Currently, N95 masks are thrown away by healthcare providers after a single use, according to the FDA.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine had personally appealed to the FDA to have Battelle’s system approved. On Twitter, he explained on Sunday that finding N95 masks was a problem not only in Ohio, but across the country.

Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services told Congress that it was only had one percent, or 35 million, of the estimated 3.5 billion N95 masks needed to deal with a pandemic.

Although the FDA eventually approved the use of Battelle’s system, it has limited the number of N95 masks the company could handle 10,000 a day. The limit is upset DeWine, who called the FDA “reckless”, and asked him to call President Donald Trump to explain the matter. Trump later posted on Twitter that the FDA should do that “move fast”.

On Sunday, DeWine tweeted that the FDA had promised to resolve the problem the same day.

“Today’s urgency is because we know that today we have people on the front lines who don’t have the masks they need, “DeWine said. “They use masks longer than usual, but they do it because they have no choice.”

In a statement, Battelle said it had started building her systems in the past week. TThe company announced that the first completed system was on its way to New York, dealing with one of the worst outbreaks in the country.

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