The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented demand for PPE and in particular N95 and FFP masks that are proven to minimise the transmission of viral particles. Beyond the usual constraints of manufacture, supply chain and logistics, there have been political interventions to control the supply and movement, especially of masks, to protect national interests.
In the USA the FDA and CDC have been proactive in approving new manufacturers as well as looking at options for the re-use and re-sterilisation of PPE. This includes this general guidance designed for healthcare organisations and sterile services providers.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved a process that would clean much-needed N95 protective face masks and allow them to be reused, the agency said in a release. Columbus-Ohio based Battelle uses a “vapor phase hydrogen peroxide” process to decontaminate the masks being used by healthcare providers and others to protect against the spread of COVID-19. Battelle says its Critical Care Decontamination Systems could decontaminate up to 80,000 masks per day.
These are at scale solutions that will go some way to help alleviate the supply issues and help to provide healthcare workers with the PPE that they need.
Of course, many individuals have taken their own view on re-using FFP masks. In general this is based on the premise that COVID19 survives for up to 72 hours on hard surfaces and a shorter time on fabrics. They leave masks in an open bag for 3-4 days and then re-use them, so they are covered at work for a few weeks with a supply of just a few masks.
This information film from Sing Health - where there is prior experience from SARS shows how to fit put on and fit check an FFP mask, and how to remove and place in a zip lock bag for re-use.
Over the coming weeks supplies of PPE and FFP masks in particular are likely to come under increasing pressure and the issues around re-use will be important both on an individual basis and for healthcare policy.