Sask. researchers say they successfully decontaminated test run of N95 masks for reuse
Sask. Health Authority and researchers at VIDO-InterVac say thousands of masks could be repurposed per month
Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan say they successfully decontaminated a small batch of N95 respiratory masks for reuse last week.
The goal of the process is to create an emergency backup supply of N95 masks, in partnership with the province, for hospitals to use during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the event of a mask shortage.
"This is a critical initiative that we hope will save lives and protect our health care providers," said Volker Gerdts, director of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) at the U of S.
N95 masks can be decontaminated for reuse between five and 10 times, according to Gerdts. He added that the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has set the limit for decontamination at five times.
VIDO-InterVac could probably decontaminate up to "a couple thousand" masks per week, Gerdts estimates. The process itself takes about two-and-a-half days.
The thing that takes up the most time is waiting for validation of biological indicators used to ensure that the procedure worked.
Gerdts said the process could be extended to other personal protective equipment (PPE) and is an excellent contingency plan for potential shortages.
Four staff members at VIDO-InterVac have volunteered time to assist in the decontamination process, he added.
The only cost is the transportation of the masks, according to the PPE task force for the SHA. Existing medical staff throughout the province are collecting masks.
"It's important that we have backups to backups to backups," said Dr. Michael Kelly, co-chair of the task force.
It's too early to determine just how far the process could extend supplies in the province, Kelly said.
Any masks reintroduced into the work force will be preceded by a public announcement from the province if it gets to that point.