EAGAN, Minn. — Within one day, Jon Wikstrom says three people, his wife and two of his colleagues, all asked him the same thing.
"A lot of media were running stories on the shortages of PPE. They all knew what we have, and it's like, 'Hey, how can we get into this fast?'" recalled Wikstrom, the president and CEO of Cool Clean Technologies in Eagan.
What Cool Clean Technologies has is a patented system for cleaning medical devices, like hip implants. A chamber with pressurized liquid carbon dioxide, combined with a special additive, helps disinfect. When the process is finished, the liquid turns to gas, drying what's inside without exposing it to high heat. It's a process which Wikstrom says works well for cleaning the now sought-after N95 masks.
"There's no drying cycle that would expose the masks to high heat that might damage the filtration," he said.
So for the last three weeks, Wikstrom says the company has been focused on experimenting with cleaning used N95 masks. Hundreds which otherwise would have been headed for the trash, he says, have been donated by the Minneapolis Fire Department and some area hospitals.
The company is partnering with medical and engineering leaders at the University of South Carolina and Clemson University. Wikstrom says they sent the cleaned masks to those leaders, who then tested their filtration and fit. Neither, he said, were compromised by the cleaning process.
The sanitized masks also pass another test. Wikstrom says no chemicals which are dangerous to people are used in the cleaning process.
The company wants to submit their process to the FDA. They hope the FDA will approve an Emergency Use Authorization to allow Cool Clean Technologies to reenter cleaned masks back into supply, helping to alleviate the shortage.
But there's one major hurdle they're facing first.
"The final criteria is that we have to prove that (the cleaning process) can kill, not only the COVID-19 virus, but other things that might come out of a hospital environment," Wikstrom.
To do that, Wikstrom says they need the help of a lab with the capability of handling the new strain of coronavirus.
"Someone like (the Mayo Clinic) or one of the state labs that has that capability to do that," Wikstrom said.
Wikstrom is hoping his message reaches the right people, who can put him in touch with a lab which can help - and soon.
"Every night when I watch the news and I see another story about people making masks and things, it's like, wow. I wish we could get this thing done and approved," he said.
Wikstrom says they also need to increase the volume of masks they're currently cleaning during testing. He's asking any fire departments or local hospitals that are willing to donate used masks to contact Cool Clean Technologies at 651-842-8600. The company will arrange shipping and logistics.
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