VCU Health develops decontamination process for N95 masks

Updated: Apr. 9, 2020 at 10:15 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A life-saving new concept is underway at VCU Medical Center to make sure doctors and nurses are protected when they’re treating coronavirus patients. Although personal protective equipment is hard to come by right now, the work to monitor patients showing symptoms must go on.

VCU Health is implementing a concept they’ve never done before, which is proving to be beneficial to make sure those working to save lives also save their own.

In the emergency room, seconds make a difference. As medical crews fight to save coronavirus patients, they put themselves in harm’s way. That’s why personal protective equipment is so important.

"We’ve placed orders but the orders are diverted to the places that need them the most,” Dr. Stephen Kates said.

Since VCU Health has to respond to patients showing symptoms, crews have come up with a way to get the job done, by essentially re-using their N95 masks, but only after an extreme disinfecting process.

Dr. Kates explains it happens by exposing every mask to UV light, off-site at a disinfecting location the hospital acquired just for this purpose.

"The light is automated so when we close the doors and lock them so no one can go in, the light is turned on and we basically cook both sides of the mask with UV light,” Kates explains. It’s about a 12-minute process. “It’s getting about 2,000 times the dose to kill a coronavirus particle so it also kills all bacteria or any spores or anything that’s on the mask, so it gets really clean on both sites.”

Each mask is then checked again.

"So it goes on your face and it’s checked for fit,” Kates added.

Then they put many of the masks through an extra layer of screening.

"A small percentage of them have a destructive testing where we try to push particles through it and we make sure the mask is trapping 95% of the particles,” he continued.

That’s to make sure the technology is doing its job at a time when those on the front lines are working hard to do theirs.

"We have to keep the doctors and nurses healthy so they can take care of the patients. We don't want them to become patients too,” Kates said.

Wednesday, officials from hospitals in Charlottesville and the Hampton Roads toured VCU Medical to get a close look at how this process works. It’s a concept the hospital is planning to share with hospitals across the country in the fight against COVID-19.

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