Maine CDC director publicly thanks UNE for assisting state during pandemic

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, singled out the University of New England during a daily news briefing for its efforts to provide fit test solution for N95 masks, which help to keep safe those on the frontline of the COVD-19 pandemic.

“Thanks to the generous manufacturing, thoughtfulness, and donation from our colleagues at UNE, particularly Professor Houseknecht, we’ve been able to continue our mission and help achieve our strategic goals,” Shah said.

His comments and UNE’s work assisting the state were featured recently on NEWS CENTER Maine.

“We are just so happy that we can help,” Karen Houseknecht, Ph.D., associate provost for Research and Scholarship and professor of pharmacology, told NEWS CENTER Maine.

N95 masks, particulate-filtering respirators, are considered the gold standard for protection from coronavirus. In order to fit them properly to a wearers’ face, a special chemical solution must be used. A shortage of the solution has made it difficult for state officials to obtain it.

“It was more than just at a premium,” Shah explained. “It was just downright impossible to come by. To give everyone a sense of how difficult this solution is to get, when we set this strategic goal for ourselves back in early February, we ordered a box or two of it from our standard supplier. That was back in early February. That order just arrived last week.”

In stepped UNE. Houseknecht and Deborah Barlow, B.S., research technician, have worked to make enough solution to fit test thousands of health care workers and other COVID-19 first responders.

“To be able to do something so simple, that could have such a big impact, that’s what it’s all about,” Houseknecht stated.

UNE is providing the solution to the Maine CDC, Maine National Guard and nearby counties. Those groups are then responsible for doing the fit testing.

Barlow tells NEWS CENTER Maine that UNE will continue to provide the solution as long as she can continue to get the materials necessary to make it.

“We don’t know how long this pandemic will last, but we will provide solution for as long as it’s needed,” Barlow said.

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