Grand Forks, Altru Hospital take to sterilizing masks

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Some businesses, Altru Hospital included, have taken to sterilizing and cleaning personal protective gear -- masks -- due to the shortage in supply brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Kari Jensen, director of compliance and safety at Altru Health System, the highly efficient N95 masks would normally be discarded after one medical procedure. The shortage of the product necessitates they be reused, or used for an extended period of time, which requires special handling.

“The key to reuse of masks is that you're not touching it and really getting it wet or soiled,” Jensen said. “If you have a mask on and you aren't touching your face or getting it dirty, you can continue to wear that during your shift.”

Jensen added that, if a mask does become wet or otherwise contaminated, staff members throw it away and get a new one. Hospital staff are also sterilizing masks with ultraviolet light, in effort to conserve supplies.

“I think we're lucky to have that equipment capability here in Altru," Jensen said.


Jensen spoke about the situation at a Grand Forks/East Grand Fork Chamber video conference about worker safety, on Monday, April 6. The meeting is part of a continuing series of Business Response seminars held by the Chamber.

Though most Grand Forks city staff are working from home, City Area Transit drivers don’t have that option. To that end, the city has supplied them with facemasks, though they need to be reused as well.

Tangee Bouvette, human resource director for the city, said masks can be bagged for five days, and then be re-worn. Bouvette said public health officials said this was not ideal, but could be done in light of the circumstances.

Jensen said people should be careful about how they place a mask into a bag -- that it should be placed in such a way as to make sure when it is put back on, the “dirty” side is facing out.

For those who want to make masks at home, Jensen said cotton fabric could be used, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though it should be washed in hot water before sewing.

Jensen said homemade masks don’t offer the same level of protection as hospital procedural masks, which are backed by data as to the efficacy.

“But again, probably a mask is better than no mask,” Jensen said.

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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