Each Battelle-made machine can clean up to 80,000 masks per day, allowing healthcare workers treating coronavirus patients to reuse them up to 20 times.
The Pentagon has placed a $415 million order for 60 machines that can disinfect N95 masks, which will allow doctors, nurses, and others treating coronavirus patients to reuse the scarce gear up to 20 times.
Each Battelle-made decontamination unit can clean up to 80,000 masks per day, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Andrews, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a Monday evening statement. Collectively, the 60 machines will be able to sterilize up to 4.8 million masks per day and almost 34 million per week.
Health and Human Services and FEMA will decide where each machine will be installed, Andrews said.
“All 60 systems will be available by early May for prioritization and distribution by FEMA and HHS,” he said.
Mask decontamination units are already being used in New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Washington state. The $415 million deal announced on Monday also includes the cost of contractors running and maintaining each unit.
The machines use “concentrated vapor phase hydrogen peroxide” to do their work, according to a description on the Battelle website. “The respirators are exposed at the validated concentration level to decontaminate biological contaminants, including the SARS-CoV-2. Battelle CCDS can decontaminate the same respirator multiple times without degrading N95 respirator performance.”
Ordering the machines is the latest Pentagon attempt to increase the number of N95 masks.
On Saturday, the Pentagon said it used the Defense Production Act to increase domestic production of the masks.
“The $133 million project will use these authorities to increase domestic production capacity of N95 masks to over 39 million in the next 90 days,” Andrews said in a statement. “The increased production will ensure the U.S. government gets dedicated long term industrial capacity to meet the needs of the nation.”
More details — including the companies manufacturing the masks — are expected in the coming days.