Innovation: Baking the N-95 masks so they can be safely reused

Photo by Shirley Young, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium

Joaqlin Estus

'The trailer can treat about one thousand bags at a time'

Joaqlin Estus

Indian Country Today

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium has put together a mobile unit that heats N-95 masks and inactivates the coronavirus while protecting the features that capture the virus.

Shirley Young, Little Shell Chippewa Tribe, and the consortium's public relations director said a 20-foot covered steel cargo trailer was retrofitted into a mobile heating unit to provide the required heat treatment.

The trailer can treat about one thousand bags at a time, sanitizing the contents during a 170 F heat soak for up to 60 minutes. Getting the system up to the right temperature, loading and unloading takes about three hours for each batch.

The mobile heating unit is powered by a generator, and includes three sauna heaters, temperature control sensors and heat resistant electronics. Wood shelving protects the electrostatic charge of the N-95 masks.

After each cycle, temperature and time information is collected using digital data loggers and heat tracking buttons placed in various areas around the racks inside the trailer. Masks are inspected after each cycle and the results are recorded. The health consortium said it's “using quantitative testing equipment to confirm that the N95 respirators that are processed continue to retain their filtering capability."

A lack of personal protective equipment makes health care providers especially vulnerable to getting infected with the coronavirus COVID-19. N-95 masks are in short supply world-wide. 

The consortium said a “team of medical staff, engineers, architects, environmental health and safety professionals and laborers” went to work on the problem for medical staff at the Alaska Native Medical Center, in Anchorage. The consortium said prolonging the use of the N-95 masks will help with the shortage of other PPE such as surgical masks, procedure masks, and filtering facepiece respirators.

“The mobile unit is scalable and we are interested in supporting our communities and partners, based on their requests," Young said. 

 She added: Any health providers with inquiries should contact Mike Y. Brubaker at mybrubaker@anthc.org .

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