Non-Thermal Cold Plasma Technology for Decontamination of Personal Protective Equipment (Face Masks and Face Shields) from SARS-COV2

lab technician wearing a face mask and protective goggles

SARS-CoV2 is transmitted by close contact and droplets. Health care professionals who deal with COVID-19 patients must use personal protective equipment (PPE) such as respirators, face masks, face shields, goggles and gowns. Patients with confirmed or suspected infection must also wear face masks. Additionally, the general public has been advised to wear a face covering in public.
Unfortunately, the current inventory of PPE is insufficient, capacity to expand PPE production is limited, and current demand for respirators and masks cannot be met if widespread inappropriate use continues. Re-use of PPE after decontamination is a suggested solution.
Non-thermal sterilization technologies such as UV irradiation, vaporous hydrogen peroxide, and ethylene oxide have been studied for decontamination of respirators. However, each of these technologies has limitations and drawbacks.
Led by Sagar M. Goyal, PhD, professor, Veterinary Population Medicine, this study will test the use of cold plasma (CAP) to decontaminate face masks and face shields. CAP is gas that is partially ionized by an electric field and comprises photons, ions, free electrons, and reactive oxygen and nitrogen species. Researchers believe CAP has many advantages over other non-thermal sterilization technologies.
“We hypothesize that this CAP system can be used for non-thermal decontamination of face masks and face shields from SARS-CoV2 surrogates without affecting their filtration and fitting performances,” said Goyal. “This will encourage the re-use of these items in pandemic situations when shortages of this precious commodity for health care workers is present.”
According to Goyal, the work will provide a cost effective, safe, and efficient non-thermal technology for decontamination of used PPE that has the potential to overcome the insufficient global stockpile of PPE, and mitigate the economic and public health burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This project is supported by the UMN Campus Public Health Officer's CO:VID (Collaborative Outcomes: Visionary Innovation & Discovery) grants program, which support University of Minnesota faculty to catalyze and energize small-scale research projects designed to address and mitigate the COVID-19 virus and its associated risks.