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Nebraska Medical using UV lights to extend use of protective masks

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Posted at 4:24 PM, Mar 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-20 17:24:11-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — In response to a national shortage of one-use personal protective equipment, Nebraska Medicine said it has developed a safe and effective method to decontaminate these items so they can be used multiple times, instead of just once.

John Lowe, PHD, UNMC assistant vice chancellor for inter-professional health security training and education, and his team are using ultraviolet light towers to irradiate high numbers of these masks. The strategy aims to allow the hospital to greatly extend its supply of masks during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The shortage of PPE is a nationwide issue – each and every one of these items is increasingly precious,” said Mark Rupp, MD, chief of the infectious diseases division at UNMC. “Although we were well prepared, our supplies were beginning to dwindle. We had to find a way to keep our providers and patients safe, and this will definitely help us achieve that goal.”

According to Nebraska Medicine, the decontamination of these items works like this: groups of masks are safely bagged and transported to a room inside the hospital which is equipped with two ultraviolet light towers. The PPE is hung on wires stretching the length of the room and then decontaminated when the lights are powered on. The items are then removed and returned to the original owners for reuse.

“The shortage has forced us to be innovative,” said Dr. Lowe. “While these items weren’t meant to be used more than once, this is a 100% safe way to extend their useful life. Other major hospital systems in the U.S. have also started to implement this method for the same reason we are.”

The hospital added that staff members had been provided with instructions on how to safely remove their personal protective equipment and place them in bags for transport to the decontamination room.

Several community partners and concerned members of the public have offered to donate masks to Nebraska Medicine, and the hospital said it greatly appreciate the offers and was exploring all of them to continue to add to the stockpile of personal protective equipment.