Testing has begun on a massive mask decontamination machine in Somerville that is expected to be a game-changer in the state’s quest for personal protective equipment to protect health care workers on the front lines in the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are doing test runs now,” said Dr. Paul Biddinger, medical director for emergency preparedness at Massachusetts General Hospital and Partners Healthcare. “We’re going through a phased start right now. ... We have to make sure it works.”
He said officials hoped that over the weekend and into early next week, mask decontamination could be conducted “at an increasing rate.”
“Obviously, the Battelle system is just extremely helpful to us,” he said in a conference call with reporters. “It’s extremely important." He said officials hoped it would eventually clean up to 80,000 masks a day.
The system made by the nonprofit, Columbus, Ohio-based Battelle uses concentrated hydrogen peroxide vapor to clean N95 masks.
Governor Charlie Baker lauded the machine at a State House news conference later in the day, saying its arrival "obviously means that our N95 mask stockpile will go a lot farther.“
Anne Klibanski, president of Partners, said at the news conference that Partners “knew we needed a solution, we needed a solution quickly.” She commended Battelle and Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone who secured the site for the facility.
“This innovative partnership will offer hospitals across our region, first responders, and medical professionals a new regional resource in the battle against COVID-19,” she said.
“We can’t get this technology up and running fast enough as a resource for the city and a resource for the state,” she said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the system is “available to any hospital and first responder system in the Commonwealth. ... It’s like a laundromat.”
The system was dropped off in a set of shipping containers at around 8 a.m. Sunday. The site is a former Kmart in Somerville next to Partners headquarters near Assembly Row.
N95 masks are in high demand and offer superior protection to other masks. Under normal circumstances, N95 masks are discarded after each use. With this system, they can be reused safely up to 20 times, according to Battelle.
Andy Rosen and Rebecca Ostriker of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Martin Finucane can be reached at email@example.com.