High-quality surgical masks require nonwoven fabric that appears to be in short supply at world-wide level. Reusing masks is typically a big no-no due to obvious reasons. Autoclaving them or chemicals are not an option either as they would damage the fabric. However, what about reusing the (somewhat) extensive food irradiation facilities to reuse masks faster? Viruses are notoriously resistant to the usual kGy doses used for food, but my (uneducated) guess is that it's a matter of dosage, RNA is a complex fragile molecule. Is there any blocking element that would prevent mask reuse after suitable irradiation?
There's a new study published looking at gamma irradiation to see if it could sterilize N95 masks (not surgical masks).
What was found was that although the FIT test after irradiation was intact, the filtering ability of the mask dropped its filtering ability by 60%.
“The sterilized masks lost two-thirds of their filtering efficiency, essentially turning N95 into N30 masks,” says Cramer. But why the deterioration?
“Our hypothesis is that ionizing radiation of whatever kind likely decharges the electrostatic filtration of the mask,” says Gupta. “The mechanical filtration of gauze can trap some particles, but radiation interferes with the electrostatic filter’s ability to repel or capture particles of 0.3 microns.”