State official encourages Kansas health workers to sterilize, reuse masks

Kansas’ top public health official on Friday encouraged medical personnel to sterilize N95 masks for reuse to preserve their supplies.

Dr. Lee Norman, the head of the state health department, said it is borrowing massive sterilizing equipment for six months from Battelle, an Ohio-based nonprofit research and development company deploying such equipment across the U.S. Norman said the equipment is based in a state warehouse south of Topeka and can currently sterilize up to 10,000 masks a day. He hopes that capacity will soon jump to 18,000 a day.

Norman said he wants hospitals, nursing homes, first responders, local health departments and state agencies to send in N95 masks, which have filtration to block 95% of particles, so they can be used up to 20 times. He said the state had recommended that institutions keep a 90-day supply but is now suggesting larger stockpiles against a possible surge in coronavirus cases later.

“This a free service,” Norman said during a Statehouse news conference with Gov. Laura Kelly. “We have a shortage of the N95s and will continue to.”

Norman said hospitals have the bed and ventilator capacity to handle a surge of cases but acknowledged that a second wave of the coronavirus could be more intense than the one that began in Kansas in early March.

“I think we need to enjoy the summer in a way, because I think what’s coming is likely going to make what we’ve seen not seem that bad,” said Dr. Beth Oller, a family physician in Rooks County in northwest Kansas. “I think we are going to be called to pull back again.”

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