By Leah Buletti, UF Health, College of Medicine, Department of Anesthesiology
With respiratory masks used by health workers battling the coronavirus in short supply, the University of Florida Health’s Department of Anesthesiology has developed masks that can be produced in large quantities using materials already found in hospitals and medical facilities.
The innovative mask uses Halyard H600 two-ply spun polypropylene that cannot be penetrated by water, bacteria or particles. It blocks 99.9% of particulates, making the masks about 4% more effective at blocking particulate material than the N95 masks, according to Bruce Spiess, M.D., a professor of anesthesiology in the UF College of Medicine, who made that calculation based on the manufacturer’s specifications.
N95 respirator masks have been in high demand worldwide since the outbreak of COVID-19. That led a UF Health anesthesiology professor to create a simple respirator mask from the sterile wrapping that is normally used to surround surgical instrument trays before they pass through gas sterilization or an autoclave.
The Halyard material, which comes in 4-by-4-foot sheets, is typically discarded after surgical instrument trays are unwrapped and before coming into contact with patients. About 10 masks can be made from one sheet, and an estimated 500 to 1,000 sheets are likely available from UF Health hospitals every day, according to Spiess.
“This material is otherwise thrown out, so by taking it, cutting it and making masks out of it, we’ve repurposed it,” said Spiess, who came up with the idea.
UF Health hospital administrators and infection control experts have given him approval to proceed with the project. UF Health officials noted the masks, which are not certified as an N95 mask and are not intended to replace the N95, will give the health care system future capacity if there is a critical shortage of N95 masks.
“My goal is to promote this throughout the country. Every hospital uses this same material,” Spiess said.
With the support of other anesthesiology faculty and staff, a community effort to mass produce the masks is under way. That effort is being led by Nelson N. Algarra, M.D., and Sonia D. Mehta, M.D., assistant professors of anesthesiology in the College of Medicine; Stephanie Gore, M.S.N., R.N., the department patient safety and quality officer; and perfusionist Josene Carlson.
Local seamstress Georgetta Graham has stepped up to help with production and is already sewing prototypes in her home. Soon, kits containing pre-cut pieces of the Halyard material, ribbon or elastic to wrap around the head and a nose wire will be distributed for people to start sewing them in their homes.
The masks would be returned to UF Health the next day and individually sterilized by ultraviolet light or autoclave before being distributed to health care providers. As people use the masks, they should be either fit tested or pressed as tightly to the face as possible.
Spiess said he envisions mass dissemination of the masks and invites ingenuity in design. Currently, one prototype is cone-shaped and the other resembles a standard flat surgical mask that folds to the face. Other designs are in development, including ones that would have a 3D-printed face frame.
As the pandemic escalates, providers are likely to want to wear them everywhere in the hospital. He also hopes to distribute them to police officers and firefighters.
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