EAST LANSING — Michigan State University researchers have found a way to re-sterilize N95 masks using commercial ovens, a method they say promises to help stave off protective mask shortages and save the lives of healthcare workers fighting the coronavirus outbreak. An MSU Extension team met with Sparrow Hospital officials, including President Alan Vierling and Bill Degg, last week to see if they could use MSU’s resources to sanitize or decontaminate personal protective equipment so healthcare workers can reuse them. They built on a Stanford University study and developed a process that uses forced, heated air in commercial ovens to decontaminate N95 respirator masks, according to MSU Extension Director Jeff Dwyer. The process is working, he said, and soon will be used to sterilize the masks for doctors and nurses. “I think we have a duty and obligation to use those resources in any way we can in this moment,” Dwyer said. “This is one of those times in many of our lifetimes that we need to be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things and push for solutions. Then this becomes an instance that we believe the decontamination of N95 masks … will be one of the important components of saving the lives of patients who have COVID-19 and the lives of the health care providers taking care of them.” Dwyer said they still need to do a little testing, but he hopes to ramp up work at the MSU Food Processing and Innovation Center and begin collecting and decontaminating masks from local healthcare providers next week. Michigan State University and Sparrow Health System will be using this oven to bake and decontaminate N95 masks for healthcare workers treating coronavirus patients. (Photo: Courtesy of the MSU Food Processing and Innovation Center) This process is a game-changer in that it can re-sterilize masks for use at least 20 times, thereby increasing the mask supply by 20 times, said Norman Beauchamp Jr., MSU executive vice president for health sciences. A team of about eight people worked to perfect a process that involves putting masks through a heating process at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time. Once complete, Dwyer said, the mask is bagged and sits for at least three days before it is ready to be used again. They use simple commercial ovens, like those available in food processing facilities around the country. The heating just requires a bit of fine tuning, Dwyer said. RELATED: Beauchamp warned that the decontamination process should not be tried at home. “The process we’re using, we’re not going to sterilize masks and then go back to cooking food,” he said. “You want to keep those processes separate. The risk is you contaminate the oven.” Other medical facilities around the country could follow this process and make a significant difference, especially in hard-hit areas, like New York, Sparrow’s Vierling said. His hospital hasn’t seen the N95 mask shortages other states have, and, for weeks, they’ve been working to maintain […]

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