Meeting the challenges of COVID-19

April 08, 2020

Confronting the COVID-19 virus sometimes feels like a battle over masks: having enough masks to protect healthcare teams; whether members of the public should wear masks outside; which homemade mask designs are best; and whether we’re even wearing masks the right way.

Now, some good news:

We have a tested process for reusing N95 masks

University Health System does not have a shortage of masks currently, but has been working on contingency plans to ensure our healthcare providers always have masks that will effectively protect them. We are thrilled to report we have identified a scientifically-verified process we’re now utilizing that allows us to sterilize and reuse our N95 masks. More about that in the operations section below.

Good intentions aren’t enough

It’s good to hear a lot of people are heeding Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s call to wear a non-surgical mask if you’re over 5-years of age and out in public. The unfortunate news is that a lot of people are wearing their masks incorrectly, and potentially spreading infection.

A mask should cover your entire nose and mouth, not dangle beneath your chin. Remember not to touch or fidget with the mask. Don’t pull it down on your chin to eat or talk. All of that can spread germs. Instead, remove or adjust the mask by the ear loops or the tie.

We’ve posted updated information on HealthFocusSA for when, where and how to wear masks, and included a link to the World Health Organization's step-by-step video.

How are we doing today? Here’s our status update: Good, OK, Concerning or Crisis.

Supplies – OK

When it comes to masks, our status is good. We have been able to order masks through our suppliers. We do not have a shortage of other personal protective equipment, PPE, although we remain vigilant, in ensuring these resources are used consistently and appropriately.

One item we are watching closely is our availability of pharmaceuticals. You’ve probably heard that some drugs are in short supply. Our pharmacy department is working to ensure physicians have good options when a certain medication is not available.

Operations – GOOD

N95 masks are the gold standard for protecting medical staff taking care of patients who may spread COVID-19.

Even though we are not currently facing shortages of masks, we’ve watched with concern as the usual N95 suppliers struggle to keep up with demand.

University Hospital wanted a contingency plan, because protecting our workforce must be our top priority during this crisis. So, Tommye Austin, University Health System’s chief nurse executive, began working with others, exploring alternatives and conferring with healthcare experts around the country.

What they found was that we can safely reuse N95 masks once they are sterilized with a hydrogen peroxide process the hospital already uses to decontaminate other medical equipment, including surgical instruments.

We’ve posted details on how an N95 mask, usually discarded after one use, is now being used four times. We love how our people have innovated to come up with solutions!

Community – GOOD

We can never say enough about the caring donors who continue to support us in mind, body and spirit.

Today we send gratitude to: Home Depot for dropping off masks; the Well Restaurant for cooking up delicious boxed meals for our night shift; Courtyard by Marriot for offering a special rate to medical professionals; and to Brenner Printing for signs that recognize our healthcare heroes. Take a look! Thanks to all of you for your generosity!