Georgetown Physicist Helps Create New N95 Mask Decontamination Guidelines

On April 1, 2020 a team of 60 scientists, engineers, students and clinicians including a Georgetown physicist unveiled a website that synthesizes the scientific literature about mask decontamination,

Daniel Blair is an associate professor in Georgetown’s Department of Physics and Institute for Soft Matter. He is also a part of the team helping create a set of best practices for decontamination and reuse of N95 Personal Protection Equipment, known as PPE.

“We realized that there was a critical need for clinicians on the front line to have the most accurate and well-researched data available to them when considering reusing N95 masks,” Blair says. “Our overarching goal is that this work provides a guide that is based in the most up-to-date science for the people that need protection in situations where resources are scarce.”

The goal of the new website is to provide overwhelmed health officials who don’t have time to study the literature themselves, with reliable, pre-digested scientific information about the pros and cons of three different decontamination methods the team believes offer the best options should local shortages force a choice between decontamination, reuse or going unmasked.

The methods are heat and humidity; a specific wavelength of light called ultraviolet C (UVC); or treatment with hydrogen peroxide vapor.

“While there is no perfect method for decontamination of N95 masks, it is crucial that decision-makers and users have as much information as possible about the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches,” said Manu Prakash, an associate professor of bioengineering at Stanford who helped coordinate the volunteer team. “Manufacturers currently do not recommend N95 mask reuse. We aim to provide information and evidence in this critical time to help those on the front lines of this crisis make risk-management decisions given the specific conditions and limitations they face.” will help facilitate the safe and rapid deployment of these emergency measures by pointing decision-makers to sources of reliable and detailed how-to information provided by organizations, institutions and commercial services.

The researchers stressed that decontamination does not solve the N95 shortage, and expressed hope that new masks be made available in large numbers as soon as possible, so health care workers and first providers can be issued fresh protective gear whenever needed.

“The scientific volunteers who made this happen came together in this time of crisis to help workers and administrators make informed decisions about N95 decontamination and standard operating procedures based on their own specific circumstances,” said Hana El-Samad, a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center in a joint statement the team issued in unveiling the website.

Original article at Georgetown News