Up to 80,000 N95 masks a day can now be sterilized in Newport News for front line workers

Posted at 3:35 PM, May 08, 2020

NEWPORT NEWS, Va.— Good news in the fight to protect health care workers and first responders from COVID-19 here in Hampton Roads.

Inside a warehouse nestled next to the Newport News airport, a small team is in place to help protect thousands of front line workers in Hampton Roads.

The research and development organization Batelle is gearing up to start decontaminating N95 respirators for health care workers and first responders to increasing the lifespan of the PPE that’s in high demand and low supply.

The facility has four Critical Care Decontamination Systems (CCDS). From the outside, they look like shipping containers - but inside, they will be filled with thousands of masks collected from local front line workers. The masks will undergo a decontamination process that will kill any trace of coronavirus so they can be reused instead of thrown away.

The Newport News facility houses four CCDS. Each chamber can hold about 10,000 pieces of PPE. The entire process takes about 8-10 hours. In a 24-hour period; 80,000 pieces of PPE could be complete the sensitization process.

Batelle says the vapor phase hydrogen peroxide used to decontaminate the masks can sterilize them without damaging the filters.

“We want to make sure that they hit a certain level of decontamination. We use chemical indicator carts in the chamber to make sure that we’ve reached a 99.99999 level of reduction,” says Sam Westhoff, Batelle Newport News site lead.

The masks are carefully labeled and tracked with a serial number to make sure they are returned to the same location from where they were taken.

The process can be repeated 20 times on each mask and will be free of charge to hospitals and local agencies thanks to a grant from FEMA.

They haven’t received masks yet, but they say they are ready to go as soon as Saturday once they do.

Batelle has installed two other systems in Blacksburg and Chesterfield County.

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