How local departments are stretching the use of critical masks amid coronavirus concerns

At a recent COVID-19 briefing, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton holds up an N-95 mask which are in short supply. Area hospitals and emergency first responding agencies are developing agreements with Columbus-based Battelle to sanitize the masks and extend their longevity of use. LAURA HANCOCK/CLEVELAND.COM At Saturday afternoon COVID-19 briefing, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton holds up a N-95 mask, which are in short supply. Laura Hancock / cleveland.com
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At a recent COVID-19 briefing, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton holds up an N-95 mask which are in short supply. Area hospitals and emergency first responding agencies are developing agreements with Columbus-based Battelle to sanitize the masks and extend their longevity of use. LAURA HANCOCK/CLEVELAND.COM At Saturday afternoon COVID-19 briefing, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton holds up a N-95 mask, which are in short supply. Laura Hancock / cleveland.com

Some Butler and Warren county communities are working out arrangements with local hospitals and Battelle to sanitize N-95 protective masks if needed.

Franklin Fire & EMS Chief Jonathan Westendorf said that the agency and the Joint Emergency Medical Services district has an agreement with Columbus-based Battelle to sanitize the N-95 masks if necessary, as the coronavirus has created a high demand for the personal protective equipment.

Westendorf told Franklin City Council that the city’s agreement will cost $3.25 a mask to sanitize and would have a 24-hour turnaround time. He said his department has about 500 masks in stock and would utilize the service once it was halfway through their inventory.

“You can wear the mask five times before it needs sanitizing and a mask could be sanitized up to 20 times which gives each mask to be used up to 100 times,” Westendorf said. “That’s why it’s a huge big deal.

“Hopefully we won’t have to do that. We’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.”

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At Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s daily news conference Wednesday, he urged first responders and hospitals to recycle their personal protective equipment to the best of their ability. He said there were not enough masks in Ohio and communities and hospitals should take advantage of Battelle’s technology to clean and sanitize masks.

“Every mask is precious,” DeWine said. “Do not throw them away.”

He also said that Apple CEO Tim Cook donated 100,000 N-95 masks to the state in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Matt Haverkos, Butler County Emergency Management Services director, said his group is working as a liaison between the state and local agencies for creating accounts with Battelle.

Middletown Assistant Fire Chief Tom Snively said the masks are not used on all calls. He said they do not have an agreement, adding that “it’s something on our radar.”

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“We are not currently sanitizing any PPE,” said Fairfield Deputy Fire Chief Thomas Wagner. “We just received word this morning (Wednesday morning) from the Ohio Division of EMS that Battelle will begin offering its services statewide. We would have to label and ship the PPE to them in Columbus and they would ship it back.

“The fire department’s main supplier of the majority of all EMS disposable goods, including N-95 masks, gowns, gloves, etc. is a company called Boundtree Medical. Our current request for additional N-95’s is back-ordered and we are looking into other vendors, but have an adequate supply for now. We have received N-95’s and surgical masks through Butler County EMA and private donations from local companies.”

Liberty Twp. Fire Chief Ethan Klussman said his agency is working on an agreement with Battelle and other logistical details.

“We’ll be watching to see how these agreements work with other agencies,” he said.

Hamilton Fire Chief Mark Mercer said his department intends to work out a relationship with a local hospital if there is a need to clean N-95 masks.

“We were fortunate enough to capitalize on early opportunities and we have adequate resources now,” he said.

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Fairfield Twp. Fire Chief Tim Thomas said his department does not contract with Battelle, but are working with the county and the Butler County EMA and health departments to figure out a solution to the shortages.

There is a countywide process in discussions, he said, about getting things cleaned, disinfected and back to the entities, but doesn’t know where that stands at the moment.

“I do know that all of us are in the same boat in locating PPE right now,” Thomas said.

The township has a handful of vendors for EMS supplies and will continue to replace items, but orders are on back-order because of the demand.

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Fairfield Twp.’s next order of masks is coming in the next seven to 10 days, but they’re not the N-95 masks, they are the surgical masks.

“Something is better than nothing,” Thomas said. “We’re all running out because the supply is not there.”

“We continue to place orders, and we’re trying to get them, and hopefully the manufacturing will catch up and there will be supplies,” Thomas said.

Barb Wilson, West Chester Twp. spokeswoman, said the township did not have an agreement with Battelle and there are no immediate plans to do so.

Hospital systems such as Premier Health and Kettering Health Network also have N-95 mask cleaning agreements with Battelle. Jennifer Burcham, spokeswoman for Premier Health/Atrium Medical Center, said the hospital network “has the personal protective equipment that we currently need to care for patients in a manner that protects both staff and patients.”

“We are taking measures to ensure we have equipment for the future, including creating a task force to address PPE concerns, working with vendors and reaching out to local manufacturers that could convert production and fast-track supplies,” she said.

Burcham said Premier Health also is working with Battelle Technology to deploy a new critical care decontamination system for N-95 respirators for reuse.

“We have begun the process to save used masks for this decontamination process,” she said. “Premier Health will be sending its first shipment of personal protective equipment to Battelle on Thursday to be decontaminated.”