As the coronavirus pandemic has continued to grow, personal protection equipment has become a necessity for more than medical professionals. Many states and companies require face coverings for frontline workers as well as customers. This has led to a shortage in N95 masks, the gold standard for face masks and the masks most commonly used by medical professionals.
These masks are not designed to be reused or shared, however the shortage has required medical professionals to do just that. To aid and protect healthcare workers, Orbitform Medical has developed the UVC Decontamination Chamber (UVC-DC) which can decontaminate ten N95 masks per cycle.
Orbitform was able to take the decontamination chamber from an idea on a napkin to a product in about two weeks. Following a call with Orbitform team members and advisors, owner Mike Shirkey shared a napkin sketch of the “Mask Sanitizer.” Within a week, the Orbitform team had a working prototype. The company then invited representatives from a local hospital to provide feedback on the device.
Following design improvements, testing and further iterations, the current version of the Mask Sanitizer was finished. Based on the recommendation of the FDA, the Mask Sanitizer was renamed the UVC Decontamination Chamber. According to David Shirkey, vice president at Orbitform Medical, there are twelve UVC DC in use at hospitals in and around Jackson, MI. Orbitform can manufacture 20 chambers per week, but they are confident they can build many more per week if demand rises.
The UVC-DC equipped with eight germicidal UV-C bulbs. Four are positioned in front of the masks, and four are behind the masks. Ten N95 face masks can be decontaminated during each UV exposure cycle of 10 minutes.
Shirkey explains the decision to decontaminate with UVC light as opposed to alternative methods.
“We have a scientific and biology advisor with significant experience with UVC light. He has built hundreds of air cleaning systems with UVC lights,” says Shirkey. “We wanted to design and build a simple, easy to use, portable unit that could be installed near to the actual location of need. UVC is well-known for its germicidal ability.”
Different masks could need slightly different UV exposure times, but other factors are also in play, such as amount of soiling, type of soiling, and what bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens are present on the masks. To be conservative, UV exposure time is now preprogrammed for 10 minutes. Shirkey recommends if there is too much soiling, or any visible physical damage, then the respirator should be disposed of properly and should not be decontaminated for reuse.
While UV light can degrade some materials overtime, the decontamination process will not damage the masks, which are not intended to be resued many times. Normal wear and tear will degrade a mask much more quickly than UV radiation Shirkey points out. Orbitform recommends that masks should not go through more than three decontamination cycles.
To decontaminate masks an operator loads up to ten N95 respirators, with five masks per rack. Orbitform recommends that each mask be labeled and dated. In addition, a tally mark should be placed on each mask to denote the number of decontamination cycles it has been through.
Next, the operator loads the racks into the chamber. If the machine senses the racks have been loaded properly, it signals to the operator the chamber is ready. The operator then hits the power button and the chamber turns on the UVC light bulbs for 10 minutes.
Once the cycle is complete, the operator removes the racks, places the decontaminated face masks into bags and returns the bags to the proper user. Shirkey says it is important to maintain chain of custody of each mask through the process so that the same mask returns to the same person.
The UVC-DC can be used at healthcare clinics, hospitals, fire stations, police stations, nursing homes, and anywhere workers may be using N95 masks regularly. The device is designed to be located near the point of use. Shirkey suggests one or more UVC-DCs can be located at each department, wing, hallway, nurse’s station or emergency room, so there is no need to handle and disinfect mass numbers of masks at a central or off-site location. The UVC Decontamination Chamber can easily be transported in a minivan or SUV.
For more information on the UVC-DC, call (517) 780-4269 or visit www.orbitformmedical.com.