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Beaumont Health bioengineers create process to disinfect used N95 masks

2-step process created by Beaumont aims to protect staff, extend N95 usage and conserve resources

Beaumont launches coronavirus restrictions
Beaumont launches coronavirus restrictions

DETROIT – With the critical national shortage of protective masks needed by those treating COVID-19 patients, Beaumont Health bioengineers have created a process to disinfect used N95 masks.

The two-step process is aimed at protecting caregivers and extending usage. Instead of discarding a mask after a single use, the new process and technology adapted by Beaumont will allow many masks to be used two or three times.

“This is a major development which will help us continue to protect our staff during this pandemic. Our engineers stepped up, adapting technology to create this process,” said Beaumont Health Chief Operating Officer Carolyn Wilson. “With the severe national shortage of masks, this will allow us to protect our staff, conserve resources and reduce medical waste.”

The disinfection process includes an ultraviolet light machine and eight walls surrounding it. The masks are affixed to cables on the frontside of the walls. The back side of each wall is reflective foil.

“We’ve adopted a 2-step process based on work from the University of Nebraska and in collaboration with University of Michigan,” said Dr. Sam Flanders, Chief Quality Officer, Beaumont Health. “A powerful ultraviolet light exposes all surfaces of the mask for 8 minutes. UV light has been proven to kill the COVID germ, along with other microorganisms. Next, the masks are heated to 150-160 degrees for one hour.”

“The apparatus emits a UV-C light spectrum to N95 masks,” explained Gregory Megahan, a Beaumont clinical engineer. “Using the two-step process, the used masks can be disinfected in under 2 hours.”

After the masks are exposed to UV light, they are placed in dry heat warming units. This second step helps disinfect the masks.

“This isn’t the first time that health systems have done this in pandemic situations, added Dr. Flanders. “Reprocessing of N95 masks has been scientifically studied and is safe and effective.”

Employees and physicians assigned N95 masks will be asked to return used masks at the end of their shifts to be disinfected. Masks that are visibly soiled, contaminated or wet will be discarded because they are unable to be disinfected by Beaumont’s process.

“Our Central Processing Department will collect masks from all the sites. Each mask will be labeled and returned back to the staff member who originally used it,” said Daniel Zimba, senior director, Biomedical and Clinical Engineering.

“We’re engineers, not doctors or nurses on the front lines, but anything we can do to help our caregivers, such as this, makes us feel proud to be able to help during this extraordinary time,” Zimba added. “We are eager and willing to talk with other health systems to help them adapt this disinfection process at their facilities.”