Taking pressure off mask demand

Published: May. 18, 2020 at 4:46 PM CDT
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Demand for personal protective equipment is growing every day. One of the most common items requested are masks, and some states are struggling to keep supply up.

When the pandemic started, states were waiting days for much needed masks from federal supply chains. But now North Dakotans are getting their masks cleaned for multiple rounds of use, thanks to this Battelle Sanitization System. Taking pressure off demand.

As the need for masks grows and the supply remains competitive, states are looking for ways to extend the lifetime of N95 masks.

The Department of Health received a sanitizing station from Battelle, which cleans upwards of 80,000 masks a day, and can make what was a one-time use, a 3-time cycle.

"We still have masks; we still have a supply. But this allows us to extend the utilization of these, because we've had difficulty in getting additional respirators in during this emergency,” Emergency Preparedness Chief Tim Wiedrich said.

Back in March, the state had 1.3 million masks available. Now, it's 600,000; and there's another 400,000 in hospitals and clinics.

But now they're hoping the multi-use capabilities of the masks will take pressure off the state to find so many more in a short amount of time.

"The state is still trying to acquire more masks and we'll get more masks when they become available, but this is the cushion, the safety net if you will, that we need to fill in that blank, to fill in that gap in the interim,” Wiedrich said.

Hospitals, chiropractors, even funeral directors have reached out for time with the station. All at no cost to companies for shipping. Within three to seven days, the organization not only receives clean masks, but they get the same ones they sent.

"We sent out an alert probably about a month ago to tell people to start saving their masks. So as soon as we can get those masks and get them back out them, they're going to be happier, and it helps us really work on maintaining the masks that we have now so we can utilize them,” Acting Director for Hospital Preparedness Nicole Brunelle said.

This is a drastic change from a few months ago, when some states were exchanging tests for masks, and even turning to prison labor to make more.

So far, more than 20 companies have requested the station's services. But in the coming months, the state could be transitioning to an ultraviolet sanitization system. They will be put on mobile labs and are under construction right now.