While COVID-19 cases have started to decrease in numbers in very few areas, experts continue to encourage the use of masks. And due to the global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), an emerging study has now identified the proper way to decontaminate common types of N95 masks.

To this day, an increasing shortage of PPE is still felt across the globe, which is unfortunate, given it is crucial for healthcare workers to wear them at all times. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has repeatedly recommended N95 respirators as the ideal protective tool from the coronavirus. And while these masks have always been single-use, shortages in PPE have necessitated the need for reuse.

A study published in the journal mBio has outlined a standardized method of decontaminating N95 tasks for health care facilities and hospitals facing PPE shortages. The researchers, a team of experts from Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, have described an approach that healthcare workers can do to protect themselves from infection.

"We identified an effective method of N95 decontamination by microwave-generated steam utilizing universally accessible materials," the researchers write. "Our method resulted in almost complete sterilization after only 3 min of treatment and did not appear to affect the integrity of N95 filtration or fit with repeated treatment."

Instead of throwing out N95 masks daily, nurses and other medical professionals have now resorted to wearing a single mask for longer than eight hours. The same mask is then used again for the next few hours, according to nurses, and they are never thrown out. All too often, masks are stored in preparation for a future surge.

Some hospitals decontaminate N95 tasks by exposing them to vaporized hydrogen peroxide or ultraviolet light. If we go by CDC's strategy, used masks can be stored in separate paper bags until the time comes the virus dies. According to hospital officials, they are left without a choice but to reuse masks due to the shortage in global supply. In addition, they are also preparing for a potential second wave.

Pre-coronavirus, no health organization ever recommended that N95 masks should be decontaminated for the purpose of reusing them. But due to the scarcity brought by COVID-19, a standardized method has been recommended in order to make use of what's available without sacrificing the health of hospital workers.

The method described in the study will not harm the quality and defeat the purpose of the mask, the research team said.