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There is a much quicker and more efficient way for healthcare facilities such as hospitals to completely rid N95 masks of the novel coronavirus and other infectious agents, and then reuse those masks, according to a pair of Rutgers-led studies.

The studies, published in the journal MedRxiv, found that using vaporized hydrogen peroxide allows for a more convenient way to protect workers on the front line fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. And, for the most part, the filtering masks can provide adequate protection after a handful of times through the decontamination cycle.

"Current methods used to decontaminate N95 masks require bigger spaces, longer times and a lot of personnel to hang as few as 250 masks in 30 minutes individually," said Riccardo Russo, director of BSL3 Operations at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. "The new method we found nearly tripled the number of masks disinfected using the same space and time, showing the efficiency and rapidness of our new proposed approach."

With this approach, masks can be stacked in piles of up to six, and decontamination will not be interfered with, the authors said. Even if the masks contain makeup or moisturizer from the previous user, the authors said, they can be fully decontaminated.

Some models of N95 masks, including the Halyard Fluidshield 46727 model, were found to provide inadequate protection for re-users after eight rounds of decontamination.

The masks can be fully decontaminated in individually labeled paper bags, to allow for identification of personal masks after disinfected, the authors noted.

"There is an importance of evaluating the fit of a mask on an individual," co-author Courtney Grady added. "Just because a person fits with a brand new mask doesn't mean that they're a 100% fit for a mask that's gone through decontamination one, two, three, four times or more."

According to Grady, the number of N95 mask models available has increased since the COVID-19 outbreak began.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes the masks are tight-fitting; they're designed to filter out at least 95% of particles in the air.

According to Grady, their proposed approach is quite practical because a typical research institution, many of which are affiliated with hospitals, is already required to decontaminate pathogenic lab spaces, so equipment for spraying vaporized hydrogen peroxide is already on hand.

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