Anand Kumar 1 , * , Samantha B. Kasloff 2 , Anders Leung 2 , Todd Cutts 2 , James E. Strong 2 , Kevin Hills 3 , Frank X. Gu 4 , Paul Chen 4 , Gloria Vazquez-Grande 5 , Barret Rush 5 , Sylvain Lother 5 , Kimberly Malo 6 , Ryan Zarychanski 7 , Jay Krishnan 2
16 December 2020
The response to the COVID-19 epidemic is generating severe shortages of personal protective equipment around the world. In particular, the supply of N95 respirator masks has become severely depleted, with supplies having to be rationed and health care workers having to use masks for prolonged periods in many countries. We sought to test the ability of 7 different decontamination methods: autoclave treatment, ethylene oxide gassing (ETO), low temperature hydrogen peroxide gas plasma (LT-HPGP) treatment, vaporous hydrogen peroxide (VHP) exposure, peracetic acid dry fogging (PAF), ultraviolet C irradiation (UVCI) and moist heat (MH) treatment to decontaminate a variety of different N95 masks following experimental contamination with SARS-CoV-2 or vesicular stomatitis virus as a surrogate. In addition, we sought to determine whether masks would tolerate repeated cycles of decontamination while maintaining structural and functional integrity. All methods except for UVCI were effective in total elimination of viable virus from treated masks. We found that all respirator masks tolerated at least one cycle of all treatment modalities without structural or functional deterioration as assessed by fit testing; filtration efficiency testing results were mostly similar except that a single cycle of LT-HPGP was associated with failures in 3 of 6 masks assessed. VHP, PAF, UVCI, and MH were associated with preserved mask integrity to a minimum of 10 cycles by both fit and filtration testing. A similar result was shown with ethylene oxide gassing to the maximum 3 cycles tested. Pleated, layered non-woven fabric N95 masks retained integrity in fit testing for at least 10 cycles of autoclaving but the molded N95 masks failed after 1 cycle; filtration testing however was intact to 5 cycles for all masks. The successful application of autoclaving for layered, pleated masks may be of particular use to institutions globally due to the virtually universal accessibility of autoclaves in health care settings. Given the ability to modify widely available heating cabinets on hospital wards in well-resourced settings, the application of moist heat may allow local processing of N95 masks.