Covid-19: How safe is cleaning and reusing Surgical Masks

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As California ramps up its purchase of protective gear for health care workers, the state also has set a back-up plan in motion: cleaning masks in order that they will be used over and over again. 
Face masks called N95 respirators are worn by doctors, nurses and other medical workers to separateinfectious droplets carrying the virus. They aren’t purported to be reused.But with shortages of privateprotective equipment reported across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges that hospitals may need to consider reusing these masks “as a crisis capacity strategy.”

Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said today that the state, in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, are deploying new sterilization systems from Ohio-based contractor Battelle withinthe following week.

“It’s a technology that’s designed to urge on the bottom and truly herald a second user N95 mask and do a sterilization and cleaning process that creates them basically new again,” Ghilarducci said.
But it’s not that straightforward, consistent with Amy Herr, a professor of bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and David Rempel, a professor of medication at the University of California, urban center.
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 may not fit to a tolerable degree to seal out infectious droplets.
“I wouldn’t call them clean masks, i might call them maybe cleaner masks,” Herr said. “They’re not pretty much as good as new.”
Herr and Rempel are a part of a team of experts who have spent weeks digging through scientific literature to form a group of best practices for decontaminating masks, compiled on an internet site called N95DECON.org.
“Both folks hope that none of this ever needs to be done, which enough new masks are available in that no hospital needs to decontaminate any masks in the least,” Rempel said.

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