NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – We’ve seen the desperate pleas from healthcare workers for personal protection equipment they need to save lives.

“I feel like a sheep going to slaughter,” said one hospital worker. “My colleagues and I are writing our last will and testament.”

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Now the first system that can disinfect thousands of N95 masks in a matter of hours has been deployed on Long Island to begin sanitizing healthcare workers masks, reports CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff.

Housed in shipping containers on the grounds of Stony Brook University, the giant disinfection machines will get sanitized N95 masks back to the front lines.

Just approved by the FDA days ago, they are the first in the nation to begin sterilizing 80,000 masks per day.

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Kevin Good, a research leader with the not-for-profit Battelle Institute, explains how it works.

“Hospitals set up their own collection points gathering the potentially contaminated masks,” he said. “There’s a bag containment they must use and they schedule delivery here.”

Up to 5,000 masks can be disinfected in two to three hours, depending upon weather and humidity.

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“All the masks are placed in there and then we get them coated in a thin layer of a micro-condensation of this hydrogen peroxide in order to kill any viruses,” said Good.

Dr. Susan Donelan says sanitized masks will be labeled and returned to the original staffer.

“This is a sigh of relief, it’s a game-changer,” she said. “We want to make sure people are even more re-assured because they are getting back their own mask.”

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Masks are barcoded with the number of times they’ve been cleaned. Up to 20 cycles are allowed.

During trial runs, 10% of masks were lost due because they had make-up on them.

“We want to optimize every single mask we can,” said Good. “For every mask that we can’t process, we’re taking away a mask from somebody else.”

The technology was developed for the military to protect troops from chemical and biological hazards, only now its deployed in a different kind of war.

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A second system is on its way to New York City.