It is easy to look at the COVID-19 crisis and see only its negative aspects. In all fairness, it can be difficult to find any positives unless you are truly looking hard. But find those positives and you might have a whole new outlook on the crisis. One such positive is an innovation in healthcare linen. It is an innovation that will have long-term impacts even after COVID-19 is finally defeated.

The innovation of which this post speaks is represented in a reusable surgical mask made from copper-infused bed linens. The masks are intended to replace paper surgical masks at a hospital in Hampton Roads, Virginia. The first batch was completed in record time and was donated to the hospital free of charge. Subsequent batches will be paid for by the hospital’s owner, Sentara.

Surgical Masks Are Hard to Find

Routine demand for paper surgical masks was being met sufficiently in the weeks and months prior to the onset of COVID-19. But once the virus made it to our shores, it became apparent that they were not being produced fast enough. Facilities suddenly came to realize how many paper surgical masks they were using, and disposing of, in a single day.

The Sentara Hospital in Hampton Roads, like so many others, found itself without enough masks. So some key people started thinking about possible solutions. They were hot on the fact that the hospital has been using copper infused bed linens for some time now. Why is that important? Because clinical studies have shown that copper helps to prevent the spread of infection by killing certain pathogens.

From that knowledge was born the idea of creating reusable surgical masks from bed linens. The hospital’s linen provider donated some 240 copper-infused bed sheets that were delivered to a Virginia Beach manufacturing facility where some 150 seamstresses went to work making the surgical masks based on a home sewer’s pattern.

Suddenly, those hard-to-find surgical masks were not so hard for the Hampton Roads hospital to find. Better yet, their new masks can be laundered right along with the rest of the hospital’s laundry.

More Masks to Come

Things have worked out so well that the manufacturer is expanding production to include its Texas plant. They have plans to manufacture as many reusable masks as are necessary to meet the demand. The safe money says that other hospitals will learn from Sentara’s example and, before you know it, the demand on the manufacture will be such that it will not be able to keep up.

When all is said and done, these new linen surgical masks will probably be considered quite an innovation. The interesting thing is that linen surgical masks used to be the norm, according to Salt Lake City-based Alsco. It wasn’t until a few decades ago that they came into their own. So where’s the innovation?

It is in the copper-infused fabrics. Way back when the first surgical mask was used during a late 19th century procedure, science was unaware of copper’s ability to kill bacteria. Linen surgical masks right up through the advent of their paper replacements were not infused with copper. These new masks are. It will be interesting to see, if they become the norm, just how effective they are at stemming the spread of disease.

COVID-19 may be putting a tremendous strain on our economy and healthcare system, but it is also forcing innovation. And as we know, some of the best innovations in history were born out of crisis. Time will tell how many innovations come from this crisis.