Coronavirus News: Face masks to be decontaminated, reissued in New York area

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- There's a growing fear nurses and doctors will run out of critical face masks used to protect themselves from the virus.

A nonprofit company got a first-of-its-kind approval from the federal government to clean and reuse N95 masks and some of the decontamination will be taking place in the tri-state area.

The FDA gave emergency approval to Battalle, based in Ohio, to start decontaminating N95 masks. In 48 hours, they'll be expanding to New York. They'll be doing some of the sterilization on the grounds of Stony Brook University in Long Island.

"There is, on the front lines, a shortage of personal protection equipment so we're excited that we have this system deployed here so we can get to work," said Kevin Good, a research leader at Battelle.

Hospitals will box up used masks in a special process and ship them to the company. The company will then run them through the system using hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate them and ship the back. Each mask will be coded and scanned so they're shipped back to the same hospital.

The company says a single mask can be sterilized up to twenty times.

"We are permitted to run them a total of 20 times each so we'll be tracking that for each mask and not allowing them to be decontaminated more than 20 times," said Good.

The approval comes at a time when the White House is considering issuing guidelines on whether the general public should be wearing masks. There are different types, but with more people buying them, federal officials are trying to ensure front line workers have the masks they need.

"We can get 20 uses out of those instead of a one-time use, so I think it can have a huge positive impact on our health care workers," said Good.

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