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Lee Health reuses N-95 masks; research says it’s safe and here’s how it works

Masks are pinned to what looks like a clothes-line, but instead, this line if more of a lifeline for masks used on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle.

Supplies are a hot commodity right now and workers at Lee Health have had to get creative.

Dr. Stephanie Stovall with Lee Health infectious diseases says, “As health care workers, everybody has a different role.”

Stovall’s role is to figure out how to keep the frontline workers safe A mission that gets trickier by the day with protective gear in such high demand.

“In our country, we don’t worry about running out of those things, most times. But we’re also not in a pandemic most times.”

That’s why masks are now hung with care at Lee Health and given a big dose of ultraviolet germicidal irradiation, or UVGI.

It’s a method used to disinfect N-95 masks.

Masks are bagged after use, then later removed and pinned up on a line under strong UV light, enough to make the masks reusable – a nerve-wracking concept for some.

“The first thing was, is there research to support doing this? And in fact, there is,” Stovall explained. “And then the second response was, well how long is it gonna work? And the reality is, that depends upon the user and it depends upon the mask.”

It depends on how strong the straps are. If the mask passes a seal test, and if it’s “Soiled.”

Even makeup can make a mask unfit for the treatment.

She says even though they have a lot of masks being sanitized, some won’t be used again, “[we] wind up throwing a bunch away every day.”

A reminder, Stovall says, that supplies are still low.

And the plea to stay home, “Until we get through this pandemic it’s going to be tight but will keep working through it,” she added.

Still sky high.

Stovall also says research only supports using this method for N-95 masks.

This is not an option for any other type of PPE.

Reporter:Sydney Persing
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