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LA Sheriff's Department Plans To Clean Thousands Of Used N95 Masks

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(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Local governments trying to find face masks for health care workers and first responders have been bedeviled by shortages, counterfeits and rising costs. Today Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said his department has come up with a partial solution: a decontamination center that can clean as many as 30,000 used N95 masks a day.

Villanueva said the masks could be cleaned and re-used as many as 20 times by county medical staff, sheriff’s deputies and county fire personnel on the front lines of fighting COVID-19.

Staff at the county’s four public hospitals and 27 clinics use 10,000 masks a day, according to Director of Health Services Dr. Christina Ghaly. The Sheriff’s Department, which operates the jails, uses another 10,000 a day.

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The cleaning center is expected to save the county millions of dollars -- N95 masks currently can cost as much as $14 – nearly five times their normal cost. It will only cost about 3 cents to clean each mask, according to sheriff’s officials.

The department will utilize a machine the size of a dishwasher on loan from UCLA. Officials will use a process known as hydrogen peroxide vaporization.

Because the process involves dangerous chemicals and must adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the sheriff's Scientific Services Bureau will oversee the operation.

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