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UVA Health using ultraviolet room cleaner to sanitize masks for reuse during coronavirus pandemic

UVA Health is using an ultra-violet room cleansing machine to clean PPE. | Credit: WVIR
UVA Health is using an ultra-violet room cleansing machine to clean PPE. | Credit: WVIR(WHSV)
Published: Apr. 13, 2020 at 12:13 PM EDT
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Hospitals across the globe are having to fight just to ensure healthcare workers have the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to treat patients infected with COVID-19. In that battle, University of Virginia Health is unveiling a new secret weapon: TRU-D, an ultraviolet room cleaning machine.

The machine is designed to clean rooms using ultraviolet radiation, which scours and penetrates one millimeter beneath. UVA is using that technology to clean masks, filling a room with as many as they can thanks to custom built racks.

“Each rack will have 55 masks, and we sort of created five racks, so we can do 275 per load," UVA Health Infectious Disease Professor Dr. Carlene Muto said. "This only takes minutes really.”

The entire process takes roughly an hour, considering safely and hygienically loading and then repackaging the masks for future use. With the plan to repeat the process all day, that adds up to a significant total: roughly 6000 masks sanitized healthcare workers can use again.

UVA Health acquired the machine after Dr. Muto sent an email to the manufacturer, who she was familiar with through her past work at the University of Pittsburgh. She asked if there was a chance that they had any TRU-D machines to sell, and while there was incredible demand, the health system was able to acquire one.

“Mike Friesen, and one of our physical engineers, Patrick, went down via the UVA jet to pick it up," Muto said. “It was here on Monday and by Tuesday it was fully functional.”

With so much uncertainty about the availability of masks and PPE, being able to reuse masks is a major source of relief for healthcare workers at the university.

“To say to them, ‘We’re never going to run out, we’re always going to be able to have supplies here’" Muto said. "Some people cry when they hear this information.”

As of Thursday, TRU-D is now up and running.

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