ANTHC staff converts a trailer into a mask sanitizer to stretch the hospital’s PPE supply

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An innovative trailer on the Alaska Native Medical Center campus gives hospital workers a new option to extend the life of personal protective equipment. The project to convert the trailer into a coronavirus-sanitizing sauna for masks and respirators took about a week and is now in use.

Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium said the project’s goal is to conserve PPE that is in short supply nationwide during the coronavirus pandemic.

“A few months ago, no one was even talking about reusing PPE …” said Mike Brubaker, director of community and environmental health at ANTHC. “Now, it’s such a big priority, new papers are coming out every day. So, we’re using the best available science.”

Brubaker said the project follows a study of the National Institutes of Health and uses 60 minutes of dry heat to sanitize masks. After the trailer was purchased, Brubaker said, the inside was stripped and rebuilt using stainless steel walls and floors.

“We bought up like all of the stainless steel sheet metal in Anchorage to build this thing,” Brubaker said.

Three sauna heaters were installed that can keep the space at the required temperature, but not so hot that it does damage to the masks.

“You have to have it hot enough and long enough to take care of the virus, but you also want to make sure these masks, which are made to be disposed of, are treated as gently as possible so we don’t compromise either their ability to filter or to fit properly,” Brubaker said.


Now in some ANMC departments, staff can remove masks and place them into a paper bag with their name and tracking information written on it. A courier loads them into the trailer, where they’re exposed to 170-degree heat for an hour. The trailer can sanitize up to 1,000 masks at a time.

Masks are inspected and tested after they’re treated. The user ultimately decides whether or not to continue to use the treated mask.

ANTHC’s project tapped into the expertise of engineers, architects, epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists and electricians, Brubaker said.

“We just happen to have all those kinds of professionals here on campus,” he said.

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Marc Lester

Marc Lester is a multimedia journalist for Anchorage Daily News. Contact him at