Burke County is using federal COVID-19 relief funds on ultraviolet lighting to try to kill the virus in its ambulances.
County officials say it’s an effort to better protect staffers and patients during the pandemic.
Burke County EMS has outfitted 13 of its front-line ambulances with UV photocatalytic oxidation units, which run between patient calls to disinfect the vehicles, according to a release from the county.
“It is important for Burke EMS to remain on the forefront of technology, especially when it pertains to the safety of its staff and patients,” Greg Curry, Burke EMS director, said in the release. “These units have been put in place as an extra precaution to prevent the spread of infectious pathogens.”
Burke EMS Sgt. Robby Milton has been involved in the units installation and in a study on their efficacy spearheaded by Dr. Seth C. Hawkins, EMS medical director, the release said.
With assistance from the Carolinas HealthCare System-Blue Ridge Laboratory and Inspired TEC, bacterial and viral swabs are being obtained from a unit-equipped ambulance and a normal ambulance before and after the system was installed. Hawkins and the research team hope to use the data to further study the benefits of the units, especially in emergency response vehicles and field medical care, according to the release.
“Should this intervention prove effective, this could be an important infection control option for all sorts of emergency response vehicles and emergency responders,” Hawkins said.
“I’m proud we sourced these units locally, supporting local industry, and that they are already in action protecting our patients and responders, and I’m equally proud that we’re using the opportunity to produce nationally relevant medical research right here in Burke County,” he added.
Margaret Pierce, county finance director, said the county purchased the 16 units from CU Healthy Products. The county spent a total of $14,400, with a price per unit of $890, which included installation.
The county received $109,575 in April from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services because of its ambulance billing of Medicare that is to be used for COVID-19-related expenditures, Pierce said. The money has to be spent by the end of December.
The money is from the Coronavirus Relief Fund but it is a separate from the $1.7 million the county also received under the CARES Act, Pierce said.
So how is the technology supposed to work?
The owner of Cu Healthy Products, Jason Seidel, said a photocatalytic oxidation unit essentially creates vaporized hydrogen peroxide.
“The UV light replicates nature’s purifying process. It converts water vapor into oxidizers, such as peroxide and hydroxyls,” Seidel said in the release. “These agents inactivate microbes by destroying their cell wall or by changing their molecular structure.”
These “friendly oxidizers” are based on oxygen and hydrogen, and revert back to harmless carbon dioxide and water after they oxidize. No chemicals are involved, and no chemical residue remains, according to the release from the county.
The units also create cluster ions, which can travel through the ventilated portion of the ambulance, increasing oxidation products in the environment and inactivating microbes through direct contact, according to the release.
The basis of the technology was developed at the University of Wisconsin and was funded by NASA and the Center for Indoor Air Research, the release said.
Photocatalytic oxidation technology has demonstrated the ability to safely disinfect each virus, bacteria, mold and fungus against which it has been applied, according to the release. Independent studies at Kansas State University and the University of Cincinnati have shown such units can disinfect from 96.4% to 99.99% of surface-contaminating and airborne viruses and bacteria within the first 24 hours after installation.
“Working in the immediate front-line care of patients with COVID-19, the emergency medical staff of Burke EMS are thankful for the extra precautions during these difficult times,” Milton said in the release.
In addition to the units, the county also has used the pot of federal money to purchase some PAPRs, a different type of protective gear similar to hazmat suits, Pierce said. It also has ordered laptops for remote emergency management workers, as well as cleaning supplies and cloth face masks, she said.
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