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UVa Medical Center staff create virus-battling robot

When inside-the-box thinking doesn’t cut it, you need to get out of it.

Staff at the University of Virginia Medical Center threw away convention to find a way to extend the life of personal protective equipment in the face of the highly communicable and deadly virus.

With a pandemic raging, staff across the center’s departments worked to find ways of extending the life of protective gear as shortages of N95 masks and other equipment used when treating patients grew critical in other parts of the country struck by COVID-19.

Staff wound up playing TV’s MacGyver with a robot designed to clean hospital rooms of virulent organisms, turning it into a virus-killing, gear-cleaning, ultraviolet ray gun called Tru-D.

There was a need for speed. Dr. Carlene Muto, assistant professor of infectious diseases and international health, had been on a trip to Italy with her daughter when the pandemic began to ravage that country.

“We got out in the nick of time and I started thinking, ‘What’s going to happen when it gets here?’ ” Muto recalled.

“For us, the problem was not the protective gloves or gowns but the masks. There are different types and people who fit in one type can’t necessarily fit into another,” she said. “Normally, we don’t reuse them, but when there’s a shortage of them around the world and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is putting out advice on reusing them, we knew we had to address it.”