Taking the UV light fight to COVID-19: helping the education sector stay safe

Keith Wyatt, director of eco projects at UV CleanLight, discusses the usage of UV light and its benefits in terms of speed and disinfection

The challenge of making the education sector safe for the return of staff and pupils is one that has gained huge media attention over recent months. Government guidance has left education decision-makers confused and bewildered, with many schools snubbing the government’s initial June reopening date.

Now, the race is on to present a clean, safe environment for the September return. Whilst social distancing measures go some way towards assuaging concerns, parents, pupils and staff will want to be totally convinced that sites are ready.

The use of UV light as a means of eradicating COVID is slowly entering the public-consciousness. In fact, UV light as a form of disinfectant isn’t an entirely new premise – especially in hospitals worldwide. UV disinfectant machines have been on the rise in recent years. Their most common use is to disinfect rooms that patients with particularly contagious diseases have been occupying. It’s not all too surprising, then, that people are beginning to wonder whether UV light could work in other environments.

How does UV light kill microorganisms?

Generally speaking, UV light will kill microorganisms by damaging their DNA or RNA depending on the type of virus. The UV light breaks the microorganisms down on a molecular level, destroying existing bonds within the microorganisms and causing new ones to form. Once the microorganism’s DNA or RNA is severely damaged, it will no longer be able to function or survive.

Specifically, this is UV-C light energy which is not the same as the UVA used in tanning beds or UVB from sunlight exposure. The size and cost of UV-C light solutions has previously been prohibitive to most organisations. Now, more portable lamp solutions are being developed, making it something that could work in any situation.

Recent studies by organisations such as Boston University have not only demonstrated that COVID-19 is killed by UV-C, but have also determined the exact energy required to kill the virus. Solutions can therefore be specified which will kill the virus within a given time dependant on room size.

The education sector takes notice

Used standalone or alongside other deep-cleaning measures, healthcare infection experts agree that ultraviolet light is effective at maintaining a level of disinfection that regular cleaning alone can’t match. Such UV-C devices can be strategically placed within the room for a predetermined period of time or moved around by automated robotic devices. Devices can also be operated remotely via timed controls.

Certainly, conversations with educational sites have revealed major interest in UV, and take-up is now starting. Some sites are discussing total room-by-room disinfection via multiple lamps; others are learning more about conveyor-belt style solutions whereby pupils’ bags and possessions are passed through the UV light much like an airport security system.

Beware imitation

In the current pandemic, there are many products being marketed as hand-held UV-C devices that claim to be capable of disinfecting areas from COVID-19. As there is much that must be known about the correct usage of UV-C emitting devices and due to their complex nature, consumers and businesses must be wary of purchasing such products. Unaccredited products with no official validation may not be producing UV-C at all or they may be unsafe for use.

The education sector is under huge pressure to get sites hygienic and safe before the planned September return. Forward-thinking establishments are already in talks with UV lighting experts, recognising the future-proof safety and security provided by a technique that has already proven its worth in the strictest medical environments.

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