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Ethanol plants seek rule changes to resupply hand sanitizer
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Ethanol plants seek rule changes to resupply hand sanitizer

Ethanol plants seek rule changes to resupply hand sanitizer
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, file
FILE— In this Jan. 28, 2014 file photo a jar of ethanol fuel sits on display during the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association meeting in Altoona, Iowa. As hospitals and nursing homes run out of hand sanitizer to fight off the coronavirus, struggling ethanol producers are eager to help. They could provide alcohol to make millions of gallons of the germ-killing sanitizer, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has put up a roadblock, frustrating both the health care and ethanol industries with its inflexible regulations during a national health care crisis. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, file)

Ethanol plants seek rule changes to resupply hand sanitizer

As hospitals and nursing homes desperately search for hand sanitizer amid the coronavirus outbreak, federal regulators are preventing ethanol producers from providing millions of gallons of alcohol that could be transformed into the germ-killing mixture.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's roadblock has been frustrating the health care and ethanol industries, which have been calling for a relaxed regulation to deal with the public health care emergency.

“Hand sanitizer is a big part of our lives,” said Eric Barber, CEO of Mary Lanning Healthcare, a hospital in Hastings, Nebraska. “We can’t get any. We order it and it’s just not available.”

The problem for the ethanol industry is that most plants make food-grade ethanol, one step below the highest pharmaceutical grade. But since the plants aren't certified to comply with stringent production standards designed to protect quality of medicines, food ingredients and dietary supplements, the FDA doesn't want the alcohol used for a product to be applied to the skin.

In addition, the alcohol is not denatured or mixed with a bitter additive to make it undrinkable. The FDA insists this step is “critical” because of cases of poisoning, sometimes fatal, among young children who have accidentally ingested hand sanitizers.

An FDA spokesman said Thursday that regulators have already seen a rise in poisonings linked to hand sanitizers in recent weeks, “heightening this public concern.”

The FDA is also skeptical of industry claims that undenatured sanitizers could be distributed in a way that would keep them away from children.

“It is unclear what, if any, measure could be instituted to ensure that the product does not make its way into consumer hands, where children could have access,” FDA’s Jeremy Kahn said in an emailed statement.

Facing a nationwide shortage, Barber said the FDA should temporarily relax regulations to allow alternative production.

“You’re talking about alcohol. Does it matter if it's fuel grade or whatever the stuff is they’re trying to price gouge now? I think its common sense,” he said.

The American Hospital Association encouraged flexibility to help protect patients and caregivers, without directly weighing in on the sanitizer dispute.

“We may need to consider a range of possible solutions that were not on the table before the pandemic,” said Nancy Foster, a vice president with the group, in an emailed statement to the AP.

The Consumer Brands Association, formerly the Grocery Manufacturers Association, has had conversations with the FDA to push the agency to reconsider its guidelines. The group, which represents branded food, consumer products and beverage companies, said that hand sanitizer supplies are running so low that its members have had to ration it out to workers in stores, distribution centers and manufacturing plants.

"We need a temporary solution," said Mike Gruber, vice president of regulatory and technical affairs at the trade association. “This goes toward ensuring basic food safety practices.”

Distillers that produce vodka, whisky and other alcoholic drinks have been given some regulatory waivers by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau allowing them to produce hand sanitizer. Many have done that, but they produce much smaller volumes of alcohol than an ethanol plant could produce. They also receive a benefit in the Senate-passed stimulus bill.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, which represents dozens of large and small distillers, applauded Congress for easing taxes on distillers who make hand sanitizer.

Under the stimulus package passed late Wednesday, distillers don’t have to pay federal excise taxes on alcohol used for hand sanitizer through Jan. 1, 2021.

“Hundreds of U.S. distillers are stepping up to produce hand sanitizer and they should not be hit with a huge tax bill for producing this much-needed item, especially at a time when so many of them are struggling,” said Chris Swonger, the group’s president and CEO.

But the council said it’s urging the FDA to update its guidance and let distillers use undenatured alcohol for hand sanitizer. The stimulus bill requires distillers to follow the FDA’s guidance if they want to receive the tax breaks.

The FDA has waived dozens of regulations in recent weeks to boost production of key medical supplies, including coronavirus tests, ventilators, gloves and hand sanitizers.

Under the latest FDA guidelines, regulators maintain standards for alcohol, requiring new producers to use alcohol that meets federal or international standards for use in either drugs or food products.

The regulatory hurdles are especially frustrating for Midwest ethanol producers who are facing plunging fuel demand and a petroleum fight between Saudi Arabia and Russia that caused prices to plummet. The factors are forcing more plants to curtail production and close.

For ethanol producers relaxed rules, including a requirement of the hard-to-acquire denaturant, would allow them to step in an help in a national emergency.

“If we could get the FDA to say yes you can use the beverage grade and for the duration of this emergency at least for some point in time here for the next two weeks you can waive the denaturant we would literally have millions of gallons of hand sanitizer available within a matter of days,” said Monte Shaw, CEO of Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol trade group. “Every one of our plants has gotten contacted by people who want this stuff and we can’t send it to them.”

Andrew Vrbas owner of Pacha Soap, a boutique soap shop in Hastings, Nebraska, had just finished renovating a 100,000-square-foot former bread factory as a project to boost the community. Now, he’s preparing to set up hand sanitizer production there to supply to hospitals. He’s received calls from hospitals in Nebraska, Florida and New York City seeking hand sanitizer.

“We are literally three miles from a plant that has as much ethanol as you could imagine,” he said. “We’re sitting on millions of gallons of alcohol. If we could rally the federal government to say look if you just let us work with local ethanol producers we have the expertise, we have the ability to provide hand sanitizer to hospitals not only in Nebraska but all across the country that are just reaching out through my network saying if you could send us hand sanitizer, we’re out.”

___

Retail Writer Anne D'Innocenzio contributed from New York City, Health Writer Matthew Perrone from Washington and Auto Writer Dee-Ann Durbin from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • More than 1.15 million people worldwide -- including more than 290,000 people in the United States – have been infected with the new coronavirus, and the number of deaths from the outbreak continues to rise. Officials are attempting to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. as hospitals brace for unprecedented patient surges. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tracking cases in the U.S. here. Live updates for Saturday, April 4, continue below:  1,224 people die in US, most in single day Update 9:49 p.m. EDT April 4: Health officials reported 1,224 deaths in the U.S. Saturday, the most in a single day since the coronavirus pandemic began. The previous day with the most deaths was Friday with 1,094, CNN reported. There are more than 305,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 8,300 deaths in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins virus tracking site. Wyoming is the only state that has not yet reported a death. Nearly 10,000 NYPD, FDNY first responders out sick Update 8:11 p.m. EDT April 4: Amid increased calls because of the coronavirus, about 1 in 4 Fire Department of New York emergency responding personnel called out sick Friday, the department said. More than 3,000 emergency medical technicians, paramedics and firefighters called out, WNBC reported. The FDNY responded to more than 6,500 calls Monday, a spike of more than 500 calls from the day before, WNBC reported. Officials said they normally get about 4,000 calls a day.More than 400 members of the FDNY have tested positive for the coronavirus. Other first responders are feeling the effects of the virus too. One in 6 members of the New York Police Department are out sick or in quarantine, according to The New York Times. On Thursday, 6,498 members of the force called in sick reporting flu-like symptoms.There are more than 113,000 confirmed cases of the virus in New York state and more than 3,500 deaths. Queen Elizabeth to address coronavirus in rare television appearance  Update 7:15 p.m. EDT April 4: Queen Elizabeth II is expected to address the coronavirus pandemic in a rare television appearance Sunday. She recorded the speech Friday, CNN reported. It will be broadcast at 8 p.m. local time. “I am speaking to you at what I know is an increasingly challenging time. A time of disruption in the life of our country: a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all,” the Queen is expected to say Sunday, CNN reported. It is the fourth time the Queen has made a special address, NBC News reported. The last time was in 2002 following the death of the Queen Mother. She also spoke on television in 1997 ahead of Princess Diana’s funeral and in 1991 regarding the first Gulf War. There are more than 42,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and more than 4,300 deaths in the United Kingdom, according to Johns Hopkins virus tracking information. US cases top 300,000 as death toll passes 8,000 Update 4:56 p.m. EDT April 4: More than 300,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in the U.S. as deaths surpassed 8,000 on Saturday afternoon, The New York Times reported. Health officials believe the number of infected is much higher. President Donald Trump said at the Saturday coronavirus task force news conference that “there will be a lot of death” in the coming week, CNN reported. There are more than 113,000 coronavirus cases and 3,500 deaths in New York state. Worldwide, more than 1.1 million people have tested positive for the coronavirus and 59,000 people have died. CDC to begin testing for antibodies Update 3:08 p.m. EDT April 4: Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they have begun testing to learn whether people have been previously infected with the coronavirus, The New York Times reported. The serology tests detect antibodies that the immune system makes in response to the virus, the newspaper reported. Joe Bresee, deputy incident manager of the agency’s COVID-19 response, said testing will focus on people in areas with a high concentration of cases; people in a representative sample of other areas and special groups of people who are likely to have had a higher risk of being exposed to the virus, the Times reported. The CDC also announced it expanded its online information about the coronavirus, adding a weekly report that will include figures on outpatient and emergency department visits, hospitalizations, deaths and data on testing, according to the Times. Astros pitcher Justin Verlander donating paychecks Update 2:11 p.m. EDT April 4: Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander posted a video, including his wife, Kate Upton, on his Instagram page and said he will donate his major league baseball paychecks to different organizations. “Everyone around the world is affected by this virus, and we hope to contribute to the families and jobs affected, the healthcare workers and first responders on the front lines and the many others in need of basic necessities, medical supplies and support at home.” Verlander said in the video. New York death toll tops 3,500 Update 1:44 p.m. EDT April 4:  The death toll in       New York state jumped to 3,565 on Saturday, an increase of 630 from Friday,       The New York Times reported. Confirmed cases in New York now stand at 113,704, according to       The Washington Post . There are now 290,606 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States and more than 7,700 fatalities.      “By the numbers, we’re not yet at the apex. We’re getting closer,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference. “I want to get to the other side of the apex, and let’s just slide down that mountain.” Shoe designer Sergio Rossi dies from COVID-19 complications Update 1:31 p.m. EDT April 4:  Legendary women’s shoe designer Sergio Rossi died of complications from coronavirus in northern       Italy , hospital officials confirmed. He was 84. An official at the Maurizio Bufalini Hospital in Cesena, confirmed Rossi’s death to       CNN but did not provide any other information, including when the designer died.      “Today everyone at Sergio Rossi joins me in remembering our dear Sergio, the inspiring founder of our dream,” Riccardo Sciutto. Sergio Rossi CEO, told       Vogue . “Sergio Rossi was a master. His vision and approach will remain our guide in the growth of the brand and the business. He loved women and was able to capture a woman’s femininity in a unique way, creating the perfect extension of a woman’s leg through his shoes. '      Cuomo says China donating 1,000 ventilators to New York Update 11:29 a.m. EDT April 4:  Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference Saturday that New York will receive 1,140 ventilators from China and Oregon. Cuomo said 1,000 ventilators from China were expected to arrive sometime Saturday at John F. Kennedy International Airport.      “This is a big deal and it’s going to make a significant difference for us. Also, the state of Oregon contacted us and is going to send 140 ventilators,” Cuomo said at the news conference. “Which is I can tell you just astonishing and unexpected. And I want to thank Gov. (Kate) Brown, I want to thank all of the people in the state of Oregon for their thoughtfulness.” Cuomo says China donating 1,000 ventilators to New York Coral Princess ship docks in Miami with 2 dead, captain says Update 10:56 a.m. EDT April 4:  Two people aboard the Coral Princess cruise ship, which reported 12 positive cases of the coronavirus Thursday, docked in Miami early Saturday and reported that two people died overnight, the       Miami Herald  reported. The ship’s captain announced the deaths,       The Washington Post  reported.      The captain did not say whether the two passengers who died were among the confirmed COVID-19 cases but said they were being treated in the ship’s medical center when they passed away, the       Post reported, citing a recording of the captain’s announcement.      The announcement was confirmed by Shannon Kilbane, a passenger from California, the       Herald reported..“I know how difficult this news is to bear, but given the current situation, we remain committed to transparent and consistent communication with you,” the captain said in the announcement, according to the       Post.  “This information will need to be shared with shoreside authorities and will become public, so I wanted you to hear it from me first.”           Global death toll tops 60,000 Update 9:52 a.m. EDT April 4:  The worldwide death toll for the coronavirus moved past 60,000 Saturday morning and has infected more than 1.13 million people according to       Johns Hopkins University . The United States has more than 270,400 cases and more than 7,100 deaths.                                                                                Texas records 100th death Update 9:46 a.m. EDT April 4:  The death toll in Texas from the coronavirus has reached 100 people, the       Houston Chronicle reported. The state has more than 6,050 confirmed COVDI-19 cases, the newspaper reported. As of Friday, Houston had 506 cases and eight deaths, while unincorporated Harris County had 519 cases and five deaths, according to the       Chronicle. 600 French soldiers test positive Update 9:29 a.m. EDT April 4:  Approximately 600 members of the French military have tested positive for the coronavirus,       The Washington Post reported Saturday.      In an       interview , France’s Defense Minister Florence Parly told the Le Dauphiné libéré newspaper that the ministry was monitoring the situation “very closely.” Parly said the ability of the army to carry out missions was “not impacted,' the       Post reported.      AutoNation furloughs 7,000 employees, cuts executives’ pay Update 9:02 a.m. EDT April 4:  AutoNation announced in filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it is furloughing 7,000 employees, cutting the pay of its top executives and imposing a hiring freeze as the auto dealer giant is feeling the economic pinch caused by the coronavirus. The report, filed Thursday, noted that AutoNation cut advertising spending by nearly 50% for the second quarter of 2020. The company also reduced discretionary spending and postponed more than $50 million in capital spending during the second quarter, scoring to the filing.      'The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely impacted, and is expected to continue to  adversely impact, AutoNation’s operations,” the company said in the filing. France becomes 5th nation to surpass China’s total coronavirus count  Update 7:43 a.m. EDT April 4 : The global death toll attributed to the novel coronavirus hit 59,884 early Saturday, and the latest surge in cases in France pushed the European nation’s total past that of China, where the illness was first detected in December.       In the four months since the virus was first identified in       Wuhan, China , it has infected at least 1,131,713 people worldwide,       according to a tally maintained by Johns Hopkins University . Five countries – the       United States, Spain, Italy, Germany and       France – have now confirmed total infection counts well above China’s 82,526 cases.       • The       United States has reported 278,458 cases, resulting in 7,159 deaths.       •       Spain has confirmed 124,736 cases, resulting in 11,744 deaths.       •       Italy has reported 119,827 infections, resulting in 14,681 deaths.       •       Germany has reported 91,159 cases, resulting in 1,275 deaths.       •       France has confirmed 83,029 infections, resulting in 6,520 deaths.       •       China has recorded 82,543 cases, resulting in 3,330 deaths.       •       Iran has recorded 55,743 cases, resulting in 3,452 deaths.       • The       United Kingdom has reported 38,697 cases, resulting in 3,611 deaths.       •       Turkey has recorded 20,921 cases, resulting in 425 deaths.       •       Switzerland has confirmed 19,702 cases, resulting in 60 deaths.      New York’s first responders union chief calls coronavirus efforts ‘battlefield triage’ Update 5:17 a.m. EDT April 4 : An emergency personnel official minced no words when describing the scale and gravity of the toll the novel coronavirus crisis is taking on the city’s first responders and medical personnel.      'We’re in wartime mode,” Michael Greco, vice president of the New York City Fire Department Bureau of Emergency Medical Services union, told       CNN .      'If we don’t get a return of circulation, after 20 minutes we are terminating the CPR, and we are not transporting,” Greco       told the network .      To date, the state of New York has confirmed 103,060 infections – resulting in 2,935 deaths – or nearly one-third of the total 278,458 U.S. cases.       According to a Johns Hopkins University tally , 1,867 of the state’s deaths have occurred within New York City.      Prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Greco said he and his fellow paramedics typically witnessed one or two cardiac arrests per week. One New York crew handled seven cardiac arrests on Thursday, alone, Greco told       CNN .      “As an EMT (emergency medical technician) or a paramedic, doctors too, and nurses, we all swore oaths to do everything we can to save a life and now we’re making decisions that we were never trained for to handle mentally,” he       told the network .      US Attorney General Barr orders release of vulnerable federal inmates to limit coronavirus spread Update 2:33 a.m. EDT April 4 : U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr ordered the release late Friday night of vulnerable inmates to home confinement in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in federal prisons.      In a memorandum,      obtained by The Washington Post , requested the Federal Bureau of Prisons move elderly inmates and those with preexisting health conditions from Danbury, Connecticut; Oakdale, Louisiana; and Elkton, Ohio.     According to the      Post , prison officials have attributed five deaths at Oakdale and two at Elkton to the coronavirus. Meanwhile, Danbury has confirmed nine COVID-19 infections but no deaths.     “I believe strongly we should do everything we can to protect the inmates in our care, but we must do so in a careful and individualized way that remains faithful to our duty to protect the public and the law enforcement officers who protect us all,”      Barr wrote .     White House attorney tapped to oversee coronavirus business loans Update 2:10 a.m. EDT April 4 : President Donald Trump nominated a White House attorney late Friday night to oversee distribution of emergency business loans aimed at minimizing the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic.     According to      The Wall Street Journal , Trump nominated Brian D. Miller as special inspector general for pandemic recovery, giving him oversight of a $500 billion emergency relief fund.     Read more      here .     SCOTUS cancels April arguments amid coronavirus threat Update 1:55 a.m. EDT April 4 : The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday officially canceled its scheduled oral arguments for April, citing health risks associated with the novel coronavirus pandemic.     According to      The Washington Post , about 20 cases are already stalled following the postponement of March arguments, and the justices offered little clarity regarding a timeline for finishing the current term.     “The court will consider rescheduling some cases from the March and April sessions before the end of the term, if circumstances permit in light of public health and safety guidance at that time,” Public Information Officer Kathleen Arberg said in a news release. US coronavirus deaths hit 7,157, total cases near 278K Posted 12:55 a.m. EDT April 4 : The number of novel coronavirus cases in the      United States approached 278,000 early Saturday morning across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.     According to      researchers at Johns Hopkins University , there are at least 277,965 confirmed U.S. cases of the virus, which have resulted in at least 7,157 deaths. U.S. cases now more than double the 119,827 reported in      Italy and the 119,199 confirmed in      Spain .     Of the confirmed U.S. deaths, 2,935 – or roughly 40 percent of the nationwide total – have occurred in      New York , 646 in      New Jersey and 479 in      Michigan .      In terms of diagnosed cases,      New York remains the hardest hit with at least 103,060 confirmed cases – more than three times the next-closest state – followed by      New Jersey with 29,895 and      Michigan with 12,744.     Six other states have now confirmed at least 8,000 novel coronavirus cases each, including: •      California : 12,399, including 270 deaths     •      Massachusetts : 10,402, including 192 deaths     •      Louisiana : 10,297, including 370 deaths     •      Florida : 10,268, including 170 deaths     •      Illinois : 8,904, including 210 deaths     •      Pennsylvania : 8,570, including 102 deaths     Meanwhile,      Washington state,      Texas and      Georgia each has confirmed at least 6,000 novel coronavirus infections;      Connecticut, Colorado, Indiana, Ohio and      Tennessee each has confirmed at least 3,000 cases; and      Maryland, North Carolina, Missouri, Virginia and      Wisconsin each has confirmed at least 2,000 cases.     Click      here to see CNN’s state-by-state breakdown .    
  • To help reduce the density of homeless people staying in shelters and slow the spread of the coronavirus, King County announced Thursday that it will move nearly 400 people to hotels. The county negotiated with three hotels that will serve as temporary shelters for those who are experiencing homelessness. One hundred people will move to a hotel in Bellevue, 90 people will be moved to a hotel in SeaTac and 200 people will move to a hotel in Renton. The hotels will not be isolation or quarantine facilities, officials said. The people moving to the hotels are presumed to be well. Officials with the county said this will allow those locations to stay open 24/7. Shelter operators will be on-site to provide oversight. The transition from the shelters is expected to happen early next week. County officials said they are finalizing agreements with the hotels, which will not be open to other guests during the coronavirus emergency.
  • Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many life celebrations, like birthday parties and weddings, have had to be postponed or even canceled. But for Marty Jacobs, whose grandfather, Junior Jacobs, turned 90, there wasn’t a chance that he was going to let the milestone birthday pass without some kind of celebration, even if it meant celebrating from afar. Junior Jacobs lives in a long-term assisted living facility, which is currently not allowing any family members inside the rooms at this time due to the coronavirus outbreak. From Jacobs’ smile, you can tell his day was made. Luckily, he has a personal balcony, so his caretakers were able to bring him outside. His family members waved, sang “Happy Birthday” and waved a big 90th birthday banner from the green lawn outside the building. Although these can be bittersweet moments not getting to be with loved ones during these celebrations, it shows the power of human connection is still very present.
  • A nurse in Washington state is sharing her heartbreaking story after helping facilitate a goodbye on FaceTime between a daughter and her mother, who was in the hospital dying of the coronavirus. Michelle Bennett first shared her story with KIRO-TV last week. Her 75-year-old mother, Carolann Gann, was living at Issaquah Nursing and Rehabilitation Center when other patients got the coronavirus. She tested positive and was soon at a hospital. Registered nurse Tatyana Huber said she and two other nurses donned their protective gear and worked to make Gann as comfortable as possible as they set up a FaceTime call with Bennett to say goodbye. Despite health care workers’ greatest efforts, Gann’s condition deteriorated. But because of the contagious nature of the disease, family members were not allowed in her room. “We felt honored,” Huber said. “We felt so honored we could do that and facilitate that for her.” Gann herself was a nurse for 38 years. The Bennetts were thankful these nurses could be there when they could not. “The nurses were so good at rubbing her head and holding her hand,” Bennett said. “Michelle had shared some things that she’d like for us to do for her mom if she could be there,” Huber said, “and they were things like holding her hand and just rubbing her head, reminding her that she was loved and that it was OK. And we did those things for her in (Bennett’s) absence.” Bennett, a former Sammamish police chief and now a major with the King County Sheriff’s Office, said nurses like Huber are truly heroic, finding ways for families to still connect with their loved ones. “I was able to say goodbye and tell her I love her,” Bennett said. “I look at the nurse, and she has all her stuff on, and she’s crying.” Huber said she wants families dealing with the same heart-wrenching distance to know they are doing all they can to help. “Please know that we're doing everything to make sure that your family member does not feel scared and alone when it's their time,” she said. “Please know that we're there for them, and just share with us what we can do to make them feel safe and comfortable.” Huber told KIRO-TV that during Gann’s goodbye with her daughter, one of the nurses in the room actually had to step outside. “She was quite tearful, as well, and she felt so overwhelmed,” she said. “So just being able to cover each other every once in a while, allow each other to take some additional breaks and just take some time to breathe and reconnect with yourself before we’re able to go back and care for our patients.” Huber also has a simple message for the community right now: Stay home. “We don’t want you and your family to be in a situation where you can’t be there to say goodbye,” she said. “Just please, continue the good work with social distancing and staying home. It won’t be forever.”
  • A large, revolutionary decontamination system being installed at Camp Murray, which will be able to clean and sterilize up to 80,000 protective N95 respirator masks every day, is being called an exciting breakthrough that could help solve the shortage of masks for health care professionals fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. The process, called the Critical Care Decontamination System, uses four retrofitted shipping containers joined together, and so far, it’s the only one of it’sits kind anywhere on the West Coast. The system- which was quickly invented and refined by the Ohio-based science and technology company Battelle- uses vaporized hydrogen peroxide and alcohol to clean and sanitize used masks that would have otherwise been tossed in biohazard bags after a single use. It received a rush “emergency” approval from the Food and Drug Administration after it was proven to be effective in sanitizing a single mask up to 20 times after use in contaminated conditions. There are only four of them in the country now, and they’re expected to help or even end the shortage of masks for health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The decontamination procedure is about 3 1/2 hours, followed by several hours of aeration to get to a level where staff can reenter that space,” said Will Richter, principal scientist at Battelle. Cassie Sauer, who runs the Washington State Hospital Association, said the system could make a major impact on the vast shortage of personal protective equipment for first responders and health care workers. 'We are really excited about this decontamination unit coming to Washington,' Sauer said. 'We're really grateful that we're one of the first sites selected to have this unit.' The system is expected to run around the clock and put more than half a million masks safely back in use in hospitals, clinics and fire departments every week. 'So when a delivery truck shows up to drop off their next shipment, they'll drop off, reload with the PPE that's been decontaminated the previous day,' said Richter. “The shortage of PPE is serious. It’s really significant, and N95 masks are the best protection for workers against COVID spread,” said Sauer. “So the chance that we can reuse the masks we have now and know we’re doing it safely is just tremendous.” The Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System is expected to be fully functional at Camp Murray by April 7.

Washington Insider

  • With the threat of the Coronavirus spurring calls from Democrats for broader use of mail-in voting in the 2020 General Election, President Donald Trump on Friday sternly denounced the idea, even though he just cast a ballot in recent weeks using a mail-in ballot system in Florida. 'It shouldn't be mail-in voting, it should be you go to a booth,' President Trump said at his regular Coronavirus briefing. 'You don't send it in the mail where people pick up all sorts of bad things could happen,' Mr. Trump added, alleging that mail-in elections could create fraud. 'I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting,' the President said, though his special commission on voter fraud made no such findings. But while the President and some Republicans in Congress have objected to the effort to expand mail-in voting for this year because of the virus outbreak, not all GOP elected officials oppose the idea of expanded mail-in voting opportunities. With the Coronavirus causing troubles right now, the Secretary of State in Georgia - a Republican - is sending absentee ballot request forms to every single registered voter in the state for the May 19 primary election. 'They will simply have to fill out and return the application to vote by mail in the upcoming elections with no in-person risk of exposure to COVID-19,' Georgia Secretary of State John Raffesnperger's office said. In Nevada, state officials decided to go one step further than Georgia. 'All active registered voters in Nevada will be mailed an absentee ballot for the primary election,' Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske announced. 'No action or steps, such as submitting an absentee ballot request application, will be required by individual voters in order to receive a ballot in the mail.' While the President said voters should use a voting booth, Mr. Trump voted absentee - by mail - in the Florida Primary just last month. Federal elections official estimate almost 24 percent of the votes cast in the 2016 election were cast using absentee-by-mail balloting, an option used by the President's home state of Florida and over 30 other states. Some states - most notably Washington, Oregon, California and Colorado - have shifted to mail-in voting.