Is Cleaning and Reusing Hospital Face Masks Safe? | COVID-19

Cleaning and Reusing Hospital Face Masks Safe? This is a  case question in the  United State of America as the country battle with shortage of face masks called N95 respirators across the country in the global fight against coronavirus.

 Cleaning and Reusing Hospital Face Masks Safe?

Face masks called N95 respirators are worn by doctors, nurses and other medical workers to filter out infectious droplets carrying the virus. They aren’t supposed to be reused.

But with shortages of personal protective equipment reported  in USA the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges that hospitals may have to consider reusing these masks “as a crisis capacity strategy.”

As reported by Calmatters, “It’s a technology that is designed to get on the ground and actually bring in a used N95 mask and do a sterilization and cleaning process that makes them basically new again,” Ghilarducci said.

But it’s not that simple, according to Amy Herr, a professor of bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and David Rempel, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

They warn about the potential for cross-contamination when sterilized masks are returned to hospitals. And if sterilized masks don’t find their way back to their original owners, they might not fit well enough to seal out infectious droplets.

I wouldn’t call them clean masks, I would call them maybe cleaner masks,” Herr said. “They’re not as good as new.”

Herr and Rempel are part of a team of experts who have spent weeks digging through scientific literature to create a set of best practices for decontaminating masks, compiled on a website called

“Both of us hope that none of this ever has to be done, and that enough new masks come in that no hospital has to decontaminate any masks at all,” Rempel said.

Battelle’s decontamination system received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration at the end of March. It works by exposing masks to hydrogen peroxide vapor for more than two and a half hours to decontaminate them, and Battelle claims it can clean up to 80,000 masks in a day.

Masks can’t hold up to this kind of cleaning indefinitely; they wear out after about 20 uses. But the hope, Newsom said on Wednesday, is that it could help by “stretching existing resources.”

Herr and Rempel answered questions from CalMatters about dirty masks and decontamination.

Cleaning and Reusing Hospital Face Masks Safe?

 What is so special about N95 respirators?

 These are different from the surgical masks that tie behind your head and that are more leaky. An N95 is designed to have a seal over the surface and around the nose and chin. When you have it in place, and you do what’s called a seal test — where they put their hands over the mask, and they blow out through their mouth or nose, or they suck in you don’t feel any air escaping around the side. Also, the N95 has, in the middle, a special electrostatically charged membrane that captures small particles coming through and doesn’t let them go through to the person’s lungs.

Why aren’t N95 respirators typically re-used? 

Rempel: Respirators really should not be reused under any circumstances in a hospital setting because they can become contaminated either from patients you see, who might have an infection, or from the healthcare provider themselves, who might unwittingly have an infection.

Typically what you’re supposed to do is change your respirator between every patient, but in an emergency situation like this, that’s just not happening. There aren’t enough respirators to go around. So healthcare workers are using the same respirator all day long. That’s happening much more in New York and New Jersey and Michigan than it is in California, but I expect right now that process is happening in California, too.

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