FDA approves sterilization process for reusing N95 masks

April 15, 2020

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted approval for University Health System to use a hydrogen peroxide gas process to sterilize N95 face masks, so they can be worn more than once. Suppliers have been unable to keep up with hospital demands for N95 masks, the gold standard for protecting medical staff caring for patients who may spread COVID-19.

The Health System has long used hydrogen peroxide sterilization to decontaminate surgical equipment, and decided to test it on the masks. It found the used N95 masks sterilized with hydrogen peroxide gas blocked infectious particles as effectively as unused masks. That’s something backed up by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the Centers for Disease Control.

The FDA approval allows the Health System to use a mask three times during this crisis. While the sterilization process does not replace efforts to acquire new masks, it greatly expands the Health System’s supply.

Let’s flatten the curve

Graph of COVID-19 cases in Bexar County, TX. Shows curve flattening.

Let’s stay motivated! We are seeing some flattening of the curve in our community over the last couple of days. This is a positive start – but only a start.

Please help the public understand the impact they are making by staying home, washing their hands, wearing masks and practicing social distancing. University Health System is here every day, with the honor and privilege of serving the ill and injured. Right now, the best way our community can show its support for us is with a commitment to keep doing the right things to reduce the spread and avoid a surge of patients.

Maintain your mask

We have seen more and more people in the community wearing medical masks in public, often disposable masks. Sometimes we see them using masks in pretty unhealthy ways. We’d like to remind people that the paper disposable masks are just that – they must be disposed of after using, and certainly at the day’s end. Medical masks like the N95s should be reserved for healthcare workers. For reuse in nonmedical situations, it’s better to get a cloth mask that can be washed after each use. And don’t forget that the masks should be laundered in hot water with detergent and disinfectant. Wear them in good health!

Here’s our status: Good, OK, Concerning or Crisis.

Supplies – OK

We are still working to use our supplies wisely and acquire new PPE, and do not have a shortage of gowns, masks, gloves or other equipment needed to protect our frontline medical teams and treat our patients. We are grateful for the many donations that have contributed to our inventory and to our innovative staff who continuously find ways to help us conserve!

Operations – GOOD

We remain proud of employees who are often being deployed in new positions as we shift staff to help with new and expanded activities. They are often screening visitors and staff as they enter buildings, or assisting with testing for our community. Thanks in part to our employees’ great flexibility, we have been able to maintain current staffing without furloughs.

Community – Good

Some generous donors have figured out that strawberries and cream are good medicine for hardworking healthcare employees. Thanks to kidney transplant recipient Patti Ruffin, pictured below, and her husband Mark for sending dipped strawberries from The Melting Pot to the transplant team at University Hospital. The delicious peach cobbler ice cream delivered by NadaMoo! was a big hit with our hospital employees. We are super grateful for the yummy, sweet treats!