The Military Is Buying Technology That Will Make Face Masks Reusable

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An Airman assigned to 407th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Flight, adjusts the straps to his N95 mask.
An Airman assigned to 407th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Flight, adjusts the straps to his N95 mask to begin a fit test at Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait, March 13, 2020. (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Alexandre Montes)

The Pentagon is investing more than $500 million to satisfy the need for protective masks in the novel coronavirus response, including sterilization efforts so medical professionals can safely reuse masks up to 20 times.

The Defense Department has delivered 10 million N95 respirators to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and is "prepared to provide 10 million more," Defense Secretary Mark Esper told defense reporters at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday.

"On Friday, we received approval for our first Defense Production Act project, investing $133 million to increase domestic production of N95 masks to over 39 million in the next 90 days," Esper said. "This will help ensure our government has the industrial capacity to meet the nation's needs."

Related: Trump Invokes Defense Production Act to Force GM to Make Ventilators

The Pentagon has also awarded a $415 million contract -- on behalf of HHS -- for 60 critical-care decontamination systems, which will sterilize nearly five million N95 respirators per day, he added.

"This will allow medical professionals to reuse masks and will reduce the nation's need for new inventory," Esper said.

So far, these decontamination units have been delivered to cities including New York, Chicago and Boston, he said, adding that the rest "should be available by early May."

The Pentagon has also deployed about 50,000 active-duty, National Guard and Reserve members across the country to assist states that are struggling to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, Esper said.

"To date, we have deployed over 4,000 doctors, nurses and other medical personnel across all components to bolster the capacity of some of the nation's most severely affected areas," he said.

Recently, the Army stood up 15 Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces, made up of Reserve medical professionals, designed to reinforce severely overworked civilian hospital staffs.

The Pentagon is deploying 14 of those task forces to "priority regions -- six of those are allocated to New York, three to New Jersey, two to Massachusetts, one to Connecticut, one to Michigan and one to Pennsylvania," Esper said.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Read More: Army Deploys Reserve Medical Specialists to Aid Overwhelmed City Hospitals

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