New Haven — A federally funded N95 respirator-mask decontamination facility opened Wednesday in a state warehouse, providing a backdrop for Gov. Ned Lamont and the congressional delegation to tout a concrete product of the state-and-federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The facility developed by the Battelle Memorial Institute, an Ohio-based research and development institution, is one of 60 being deployed around the United States. Each has a capacity of decontaminating up to 80,000 N95 masks a day for an eventual daily total of 4.8 million.
Lamont’s current restrictions on commerce run through May 20, when the state could see a gradual easing of closures if conditions allow. His administration wants to see 14 days of reduced COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, combined with greater testing and the availability of masks for workers exposed to the public.
The state reported 2,109 new cases and 23 hospitalizations Wednesday. The death toll increased by 121 to 1,544.
“Testing and masks, testing and masks, testing and masks,” Lamont said, removing a cloth mask to address reporters. “You want to get this state back to work? You want to do it safely? It’s testing and masks.”
Battelle was checking the facility as Lamont toured it with U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker. Pursuant the governor’s latest order, all wore masks until their brief turn at the microphones outside the warehouse off I-91, near Wooster Square.
The event was one of the relative few not consigned to virtual press conferences or meetings in recent weeks.
“This an an example of the funding that Congress has approved. This is a free service to hospitals and health providers,” Murphy said.
DeLauro was to return to Washington for an expected vote Thursday on the latest COVID-19 relief bill, a $484 billion package that passed the Senate on Tuesday. It included more money for hospitals and testing.
“What Battelle is doing here today is saving lives,” DeLauro said “If we can’t test and if we can’t have masks and the PPE, then we are not going to bring this pandemic under control.”
The New Haven decontamination facility was the seventh opened by Battelle under a $415 million contract with the Pentagon. It has four cleansing units, each capable of decontaminating 5,000 masks every five and a half hours, and Battelle intends to run them around the clock.
“Right now, decontaminating these masks is a way to keep our front line workers safe so they can save lives and save us.” Blumenthal said. “What Battelle has done here is a great example of American ingenuity. This is American ingenuity and innovation at its best, a relatively simple scientific process that puts hydrogen peroxide to work.”
The system uses hydrogen peroxide gas to cleanse what are meant to be disposable masks. Each mask can be cleaned and reused up to 20 times. About 30 hospitals from Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts will be sending masks to New Haven.
Jeff Rose, a former congressional aide who is now vice president of government relations at Battelle, said the institute produced a research paper in 2016 outlining the process as a possible response to a pandemic that would produce an instant shortage of masks.
“We had a conversation with the FDA and said we can take this research and we can scale it up into production level in short order,” Rose said.