Take a tour inside Blacksburg’s PPE cleaning facility

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7)— Friday, we got our first chance to walk inside a facility built on Virginia Tech’s campus to mass-clean personal protective equipment, or PPE.

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The Marching Virginians Facility on campus has been transformed from an outdoor practice space to an enclosed area to get everything done. Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System has spent the last week putting up a fire retardant enclosure to fix the space.

Site lead Christian Williams said right now they are in the ‘operational check’ phase of prepping the facility. They plan to start processing medical masks Monday.

“My fiancé is a nurse in the cardiac ICU, so unfortunately I’ve seen firsthand what the shortage of PPE has done to our frontline workers, and when Battelle released this technology, I knew I needed to be there and be part of the help,” Williams said.

Williams said Battelle performed a study in 2015 that demonstrated cleaning masks with hydrogen peroxide.

“It wasn’t until the coronavirus became prevalent that we needed to mobilize that operation,” he said.

At the Marching Virginians Facility, four pods are lined up inside, all with the capability to create a hydrogen peroxide vapor that runs on the masks for 4.5 hours to clean them.

When used masks arrive, a ‘decon’ will be dressed in level four PPE to unbox them. The used masks come to the site double bagged and partially cleaned by healthcare workers ahead of time.

The used masks are then stacked back to front and organized by where they came from on metal shelving inside the chambers before going through the cleaning process. Williams said they can clean 80,000 each day.

“We are not going to take any shortcuts,” Williams said. “We want to make sure the masks we are getting in are getting cleaned appropriately and getting sent back to them.”

The gas is then evacuated out of the chamber, workers can go back in, package everything up and send the masks back. Williams said the entire turnaround time is 72 hours.

Friday, 9th District Congressman Morgan Griffith toured the facility with us.

“I’m just thrilled to be able to be here and to see what they’re doing,” Griffith said. “It means that our supply of PPE will be much greater and should we have a surge we’re going to be in a much better position to not overwhelm our healthcare system.”

“I hope that this is one of the lights in the community that we can shine and say we’re trying to make a difference to get over this virus together,” Williams said.

PPE cleaning is available for hospitals, healthcare workers and first responders. Williams encourages you to register as soon as possible to get the process started.

You can do so here.

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