Utah company's biocontainment units help US coronavirus patients come home

Utah company's biocontainment units help US coronavirus patients come home

(Courtesy HHI Corporation)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Biocontainment units manufactured in Ogden transported 14 Americans who tested positive for the coronavirus back to the United States for treatment Monday.

In two separate flights from Japan, patients traveled home on a cargo plane in Containerized Bio-Containment System unit constructed by Ogden-based HHI Corporation — one to Travis Air Force Base in California and another to Joint Base San Antonio in Texas.

Upon their arrival at one of the bases, passengers will remain quarantined for the next 14 days.

A U.S. Department of State news release said the units kept infected passengers isolated from others on board. Anyone showing symptoms was moved into the biocontainment unit.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention ultimately determines who should evacuate in the CBCS units, but Devin Brown, communication manager for HHI Corporation, said their intended purpose is to transport "infected American service members and civilians."

"Every precaution to ensure proper isolation and community protection measures are being taken, driven by the most up-to-date risk assessments by U.S. health authorities," according to the release.

"Built from the ground up" at HHI Corporation headquarters in Ogden, each CBCS unit plans for transporting four patients and four caretakers. According to Brown, to transport 14 infected passengers, some patients must have used seats meant for medical staff as well.

"You can't transport anyone if there's not a seat inside," Brown told KSL.com

A video from the Associated Press shows the CBCS units in more detail:

HHI worked with MRIGlobal, a nonprofit research lab in Kansas City, Missouri, which was contracted by the U.S. Department of State in 2014. Together, the companies designed the units for Africa's Ebola outbreak; 191 days after the initial concept, HHI completed the units.

"They were designed, fabricated and built with the containment of really any infectious disease in mind," Dean Gray, technical division director for MRIGlobal, told KSL.com.

To protect the safe transportation of patients, standard biosafety practices are a part of the unit's layout, including HEPA filtration systems and special fabrics designed for the decontamination cleaning process.

There are four units of its kind in the world: two created in 2016 and two in 2019. Each started in Utah, but Brown said two of the four units are being sent to the Republic of Congo to help with Ebola cases. The others are helping with the current coronavirus outbreak.

Compared to other containment technology, CBCS units use a proprietary epoxy coating to line the inside of each unit. This makes the biocontainment areas reusable after decontamination. Gasket sealed doors also make the units airtight.

CBCS units reach 44 feet long and can transfer locations by semitruck or cargo plane, Brown said. Each unit costs anywhere between $1 million and $2 million dollars to make.

"What these units mean for the future of virus containment is really about safe medical transport," Gray said.

Since MRIGlobal is a nonprofit organization, Gray said the funding for more units will have to come from an outside source.

Despite no plans for more CBCS units, Brown sees more units being made available as the need arises. For that to happen government funding and an eventual request for proposals is needed. The HHI Corporation still plans to work with MRIGlobal on any future units' construction.

"These units reflect HHI's and Utah's ability to provide global solutions to complex problems," Brown said. "We're proud to be a part of the effort to fight COVID-19."

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly named the filtration system HIPPA. This story has been corrected and updated.

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