START Coalition to test effectiveness of UV lighting to combat coronavirus
Researchers from the START Coalition continue to ramp up their efforts to find alternative ways to fight COVID-19 and make public places safer as people return to work.
Stephen Prescott, M.D., president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF), is leading a team of experts from across the United States studying how to better create COVID-safe communities. Oklahoma City, Birmingham, Ala. and Cambridge, Mass. are the three test cities researchers will use to study the effectiveness of a variety of preventative measures planned.
“We hope to be an example for other similar-sized cities,” Prescott said. “We will share the data collected to allow other cities the option to choose the methods that worked here and disregard the ones that failed.”
In Oklahoma City, the START Coalition’s network includes OMRF and the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. With their medical partnership, the two are custom-designing studies for the unique attributes of the Oklahoma City population. Lessons learned and data sharing with state and national partners will be a priority in the coming months.
“COVID-19 allows us to work together to pioneer approaches that will save lives and restore our economy,” Prescott said. “Our initial discussions have been how we can sensibly and safely reopen from a scientific basis. Our coalition is broad and we talk about projects with insight from leading experts in diverse fields.”
The challenge, according to Prescott, is sifting through the ideas and determining what products they can replicate in Oklahoma City with the skills and technology the city has available.
One strategy receiving considerable analysis is disinfecting the air in public places using ultraviolet light, which has a proven germ-killing history stretching back more than a century. A natural germicide, UV lighting damages the genetic material in bacteria and viruses. Some hospital systems irradiate rooms with UV lighting after discharging patients, and many household water purifier systems use UV disinfection.
“We have taken a terrific step forward with the testing of ultraviolet light. It has gotten a tremendous amount of attention,” Prescott said. “We had a group of experts in from MIT, Duke and Harvard that met with scientists, engineers and facility experts from a variety of companies in Oklahoma City.”
The group agreed to first begin with nursing homes, long-term care facilities and jails before expanding to schools, businesses and other public places.
“UV lighting is in front because it’s so effective and simple,” Prescott said. “It’s straight-forward technology. Installation is easy and will run on a normal power source. It was an early thing we could attack and it could expand to other sites quickly.”
Prescott said other studies the coalition is examining include the treatment of sewage waste, expanding testing capabilities and studying the antibodies effective in blocking the spread of COVID-19 in the hopes of the development of a vaccine soon.
The goal of breathing healthier air in the office or home is the strategy to help lower the chance of catching something from a coworker, whether it’s COVID-19 or just the common cold.