START Coalition finding success with UVC lighting tests
Building a COVID-safe community is the goal of the START Coalition, an Oklahoma City-based collaboration of science, commerce and public health.
Their mission is to deploy, evaluate and share a suite of pragmatic interventions that protect our community in this and other pandemics.
At a recent Chamber Enlighten, members of the coalition shared some of their successes and talked about next steps in fighting the virus. The coalition’s goal is to make public spaces safe in the pandemic and save jobs and business.
Much of the group’s research has centered on improving air quality with upper-room UVC germicidal lighting. To effectively clean the air using an HVAC system alone is difficult. Experts recommend six to 10 air exchanges each hour with 100% fresh air, a solution that can be costly. Another option is adding MERV-13 filters, but that slows the rate of exchange.
Based on research, the group recommends a combination of HVAC improvements and UVC germicidal lighting — a safe form of UV lighting that kills bacteria and viruses. When deployed in combination with ventilation improvements, it can significantly reduce the presence of the virus. The technology was pioneered in the 1940s to successfully combat tuberculosis.
The group is testing the system in three churches, a synagogue, a mosque and five homeless shelters in Oklahoma City. The first test was implemented at the Salvation Army homeless shelter. Two world-recognized experts in the field of UVC lighting, Dr. Paul Jensen and Dr. Ed Nardell, came to the city to train people around light placement, quantity and installation.
Since the installation of these units, there has been no incidents of spread in the facility. The average cost of installing the fixtures is $3.60 a square foot, but can drop as low as $2.65 or grow as high as $9.04 depending on the space and architecture. “These are an important layer of interventions that are going to allow us to be open safely,” said Dr. Salman Keshavjee, professor of global health and social medicine, Harvard Medical School, START Coalition. “These methods are tried, tested, and available for businesses.”
Mark Beffort, CEO of RobinsonPark, a local real estate firm, is involved in the coalition looking for ways to make commercial buildings safe. “UVC light can also be used on coils in your mechanical systems. There are lots of different systems in commercial buildings and it is definitely not a ‘one size fits all’ situation,” he explained.
Beffort also explained that most commercial buildings use a MERV filter, most of which are rated MERV 5 or below. “We definitely recommend increasing filters to at least a MERV 13 filter which would reduce the bacteria that can come into a building.”
The group is looking at developing a Healthy Safe Building Certification, that would give building owners and managers guidance on how to make building occupants and customers feel safe in a building. The combination of sanitation, policies, practices, systems and safety equipment combine to provide a safe environment.
One confined space the group is researching is the elevator – a space where social distancing is nearly impossible. The group is testing an air purification system for elevators to provide that safe environment.
For more information about the work of the START Coalition, visit the group’s website at start-coalition.org.