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Research Corner
Breathe Easy With Reusable N95 Masks

Mid-March, the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., the Brownfield Regional Medical Center had a possible COVID-19 case — and a need for more N95 masks as medical professionals are trained to dispose N95s after one use.

Michael Tackitt, LP, CRHCP, director of the medical center’s rural health clinic and emergency medicine manager, watched his healthy supply of N95s dwindle as days went by. Tackitt read a news article about Team Decon — an effort led by Min Kang, PharmD, TTUHSC’s interim senior vice president of research — decontaminating N95 masks.

Kang and her team of medical and biomedical sciences students researched decontamination methods using hydrogen peroxide vapor. They then sterilized the masks by fumigation in a large chamber. When evidence revealed the process to be efficient, Team Decon opened the service to hospitals and clinics.

It was the answer Tackitt was looking for, as N95 masks were scarce. Tackitt assumed he would have to pay for TTUHSC’s services, burdening an already strained operating budget, but there was no charge. “They’re just trying to help us,” he added.

Now, when the health care professionals at the hospital and clinic feel their mask is contaminated, they write their initials on the mask in sharpie and put it in the provided biosafety bin lined with a biohazard bag. Tackitt drops the masks off at the Texas Tech University Institute of Environmental and Human Health each Monday and picks up the sterilized N95 masks a week later.

“I’ve been wearing a sterilized N95 mask and am very confident in the procedure TTUHSC is using,” Tackitt added. “As a licensed paramedic, I’m conducting most of the COVID-19 tests, and I have yet to contract the disease.”

Tackitt marks a dash on his mask every time he sends it to TTUHSC for sterilization. The process can be done up to 20 times on one N95 mask.

“As a manager, it makes me feel so much better to have this resource, knowing that my people will never have to wear substandard equipment because of the shortage,” Tackitt said.

Team Decon has received N95 masks from facilities throughout West Texas and inquiries from across the state. As of press time, the team has decontaminated more than 4,000 masks.

Testing N95 masks