3/29 DeWine

Lewis Von Thaer, left, president and CEO of Battelle, explains the N95 mask sterilization process with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine during a March 29 press conference on the coronavirus and the state's response.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine urged federal officials to approve machines that could sterilize N95 respirator masks used by medical professionals while treating those infected by COVID-19.

The state has a dwindling supply of N95 masks, yet with a process developed by Columbus-based Battelle, masks could be reused after being sterilize, DeWine said during a March 29 press conference at the statehouse.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the machines early in the morning on March 29 but limited the sterilization to 10,000 masks a day, an amount DeWine felt was unacceptable when one machine has the capability to sterilize 80,000 masks a day.

Minutes before the press conference started, DeWine said he received a call from FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn who said “this was going to be cleared up today.”

“(Hahn) thought we’d be able to have what we want and what we want is help for our first responders,” DeWine said. “We’re not there yet. We have not gotten the approval."

When DeWine learned of the limited approval, he said in a news release issued before the press conference that the FDA’s decision was “nothing short of reckless.” He reached out to the White House and spoke with U.S. President Donald J. Trump.

“(Trump) told me he would do everything he could to make sure that this got done today,” DeWine said. “He understood because I told him the gravity of this for Ohio – but not just for Ohio, but for other states, other locations. He told me he would take action for which I’m very grateful.”

Through the sterilization process, each mask can be cleaned and reused up to 20 times, said Lewis Von Thaer, president and CEO of Battelle, who joined the press conference through a video call.

Von Thaer said the process will start at the hospitals, which will collect the masks and wrap them in plastic. Once they’re ready to ship to Battelle's facility in West Jefferson, just outside of Columbus, the bags are placed in another plastic bag and wiped down with alcohol to prohibit any contamination.

Upon arrival at Battelle's facility, where there are two machines, the masks will be placed in a storage container similar to those that trucks pull on highways and cleaned with a concentrated hydrogen-peroxide vapor for several hours.

The masks will be decontaminated for “lots of things including bugs that are worse than COVID-19,” Von Thaer said.

A machine has been placed in Long Island, N.Y., that was built over the weekend and ready to operate. There is one in route to New York City and another to Seattle. Von Thaer said he expects to add one to Chicago and Washington, D.C.

There are enough materials to make three to four more machines over the next week. Von Thaer said Battelle is working with federal and local health officials to find the spots were the machines are most needed.

Ohio now has 1,653 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 29 deaths, the Ohio Department of Health reported March 29. That's an increase of 247 confirmed cases and four deaths since March 28.

Cuyahoga County accounts for 440 of the confirmed cases, 95 hospitalizations and three deaths.

The ODH reports 403 individuals have been hospitalized, and 139 have been admitted to the ICU due to the coronavirus.

The individuals who have tested positive range in age from less than 1 year old to 98 years old, with a median age of 52.

If you have questions regarding COVID-19, call 833-4ASKODH (833-427-5634) or visit coronavirus.ohio.gov.

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