ATLANTA - With masks in short supply because of the coronavirus pandemic, those on the front lines in Georgia now have a way to sanitize their masks for reuse.
In late March, the Food and Drug Administration gave an emergency authorization to Battelle, a non-profit based in Ohio, to use its system to decontaminate masks all over the country.
"We actually had developed this system in 2015 for an FDA study that was exactly about this kind of a situation--what was an option for reusing PPE in the event of a pandemic," explained Dominie Garcia, a regional vice president for Battelle in Atlanta.
Battelle shipped equipment to Georgia in late April and by May 1, it began to sanitize masks at a pop up site at the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency headquarters off Moreland Avenue in Atlanta.
In their first three weeks, Battelle had only sanitized about a thousand masks at the Georgia site, but Garcia said they have a list of more than 200 medical providers, fire departments, and others who are signed up to participate.
"We take a lot of pride and everyone's just working really, really hard to help support them and make sure they have the PPE that they need," explained Derek Payne, lead for the Atlanta site. "We feel really good about it. We feel like we're able to give back and maintain this PPE shortage that seem to be pretty prevalent."
Payne said they can sanitize between 3,000 to 5,000 masks at one time. The system uses hydrogen peroxide vapor to decontaminate the masks in a process that can take anywhere from 12 to 14 hours. A single mask, Payne said, can be sanitized up to 20 times.
Some have questioned whether it is safe to re-use masks, but Garcia said the Battelle process has been rigorously tested.
"We believe that the best mask is a brand-new mask, but in the situation where we need to make sure that everybody has a safe and clean mask, this is absolutely a safe alternative," Garcia explained.
Because of a contract with the federal government, the sanitizing process is free to qualifying providers.
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