PPE Problem Solvers Serve By Innovating & Protecting Front-Line Workers in Missouri

    By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science & Technology in collaboration with MU Health Care

    Across the coun­try, health care systems are keeping a close eye on their PPE, personal protective equipment. Several institutions in Missouri, including the University of Missouri, are finding ways to make the most out of what they have. A cross-campus volunteer group at MU, called the Hacking COVID-19 Task Force, met with MU Health Care leaders to see how they could help.

    The problem solvers use technology to innovate solutions to pandemic-related problems. In their first big project, they created a back-up supply of face shields for a type of respirator known as a CAPR. They decided the top priority was to create a version of the controlled air-purifying respirator (CAPR) masks worn by doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists to guard against infection from airborne viruses.

    “It’s a positive pressure mask that attaches to a helmet that allows someone to be in a room with an infectious disease without having any of it entered their respiratory system,” said Stephen Barnes, MD, the planning chief for MU Health Care’s COVID-19 response team.

    A CAPR unit includes a helmet with an attaching visor and cuff combination that forms a seal covering the whole face. There is a fan in the helmet that filters air and pushes it down the wearer’s face, creating a positive-pressure environment inside the mask that keeps viruses out. It is worn when there could be a mist of infected fluid in the air.

    The helmets are permanent, and the visors can be worn a handful of times — with disinfection between usages — until the cuff stretches out too much to provide a tight seal along the jaw line. Barnes said MU Health needs more when there is a surge of patients with COVID-19. In the College of Engineering machine shop, volunteers made and assembled one thousand of the CAPR masks for an emergency supply.

    Mizzou problem-solvers found another way to help front-line workers throughout the community. MU Health Care set up four UV disinfection rooms designed to extend the lifespan of N-95 respirators. Each room can process up to 100 masks multiple times per day.

    “You’re trying to keep the people that you work with safe, so it’s a really good feeling,” said Sarah Graves, a care team associate at MU Health Care.

    Specially trained care team associates work next to a clothesline where they unpack and hang used N95 and duckbill respirators. Next, it’s time for Luna, a germ-zapping robot that uses flashes of ultraviolet light to sanitize the face masks in just ten minutes.

    “It’s like a little robot. It’s so cool,” said Tammy Broadus, a care team associate at MU Health Care who works in the UV disinfection room. “We’re able to train other people in our department as well, so we have it running on the afternoon and overnight shifts, too.”

    Multiple independent companies have verified the UV light disinfection process. It can be doneup to 10 times to increase the lifespan of the respirator.

    Knowing it’s not alone in the fight against COVID-19, MU Health Care is also disinfecting masks for law enforcement and fire departments.

    “We’re a small department. There are only 11 full-time deputies here, and so, if we start getting sick, that’s fewer people who can work,” said Ben Pruett, court marshal for the 13th Judicial Circuit Court. “It’s really important to keep them as healthy as we can, so they can secure the courthouse and enforce the law.”

    Clean masks are put into fresh paper bags and marked with the date and an inspiring message.  It’s a process that’s repetitive, but also rewarding.

    “You see somebody wearing a mask that you’ve disinfected for them, and you know that they’re safe,” Graves said. “It’s a good feeling to know that you’ve helped keep somebody from harm.”

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