UF Health Anesthesiologist Dr. Bruce Spiess is on the front line of the COVID-19 battle.
“So far I have not had to care for a COVID-19 patient,” he said. “But I think the wave is just south of us and it’s going to be in our hospital in a big way before this weekend.”
With that in mind, Dr. Spiess feels better knowing that he and the health care workers in Alachua County and beyond have the support of their communities. He has a message for everyone following the stay-at-home order and especially for those volunteers promoting and sewing face masks that medical personnel and first responders will wear as supplies for protective personal equipment (PPE) diminish.
“I can’t tell you how heartwarming it is to see a community turn out to support people who are on the front lines,” he said.
Dozens of sewists around the county are crafting face masks made out of the material that has been approved by UF for non-COVID patient interaction. As a result, this will help local medical facilities to maintain the supply of face masks that are FDA approved for that purpose.
Dr. Spiess and UF Health announced his discovery that surgical wrap made by Owens-Minor can be repurposed into face masks and reused because they can be sterilized.
When two layers of the material are put together, the material rating becomes N99 which is higher protection that the N95 masks, said Spiess, who has been an anesthesiologist for 40 years, and has spent the past four years working at UF as an anesthesiologist in open heart surgeries.
“Whenever we take a surgical pack,a tray of instruments out, they come wrapped from the sterilizer (the autoclove) in this blue material,” Spiess said about how he made his discovery.
“I never paid attention to that material except I knew over the years that it was impervious to water, impervious to bacteria,.
“This last Thursday night, I woke up in the middle of the night and said I wonder if that stuff would work as N95 material.
The next day he took a section of the 4-by-4 foot panel of the material into the lab at UF to test his theory with his team.
“We did N95 test,” he said. “By sprinkling sacchrine dust around your head and if you can taste the sweetness, it doesn’t work.
“It worked! No taste,” he said.
With no time to waste, he partnered with his department and they selected two designs of masks that worked universally.
“We tested it with 20 people and not one single one failed so we got them ready to produce,” he said.
“We will use them initially for all patient contacts that we have that are not COVID-19 until the FDA approves them,” he said.
“But this frees up other PPE for those working with COVID-19 patients.
Teams of people around Gainesville and Alachua County with sewing skills have been issued packets containing the material and the sewing instructions.
“This is truly a cottage industry,” Spiess said. “It reminds me of WWII Rosie the Riveter.”
Want to get involved by making masks or to volunteer promoting the effort?
Call 352-519-1001 or email to GNVCovidMasks@gmail.com.