Ultraviolet light system could mitigate COVID risk in schools

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jessica Roles
  • 189th Airlift Wing

     Over the past year, the 189th Airlift Wing installed approximately 175 cutting-edge 222nm ultraviolet lights throughout the campus aiding in the fight against coronavirus and other pathogens. The lights, which produce enough ultraviolet radiation to kill viruses and bacteria but not harm skin or eyes, were quickly adopted by other wings around the Air Force as well as the Pentagon and internationally.

     Due to the success of the UV lights throughout the campus buildings, the lights were installed in government vehicles and. The light system successfully reduced the spread of COVID within several organizations, keeping Guardsmen and their families safe and healthy whether in the office or in a mobile environment.

     As reliability of the light system was established, new ideas were brought forward on where and how to utilize the lights. A suggestion to use the lights within school environments due to high-traffic areas and close proximities in classrooms and hallways, was suggested by the wing’s innovation team. Another addition to the list of uses was to establish lights in the buses children used each day to go to and from school.

     “I think we as a wing did an excellent job being the pioneers for large-scale Far UV installations,” said Maj. Justin Fitzpatrick, the 189th Airlift Wing Innovation officer. “We worked through the challenges, became subject-matter experts, helped other units implement the light installation and now we have the opportunity to share this critical technology with the school systems our kids and families are part of when they need it most. This represents our first real offensive weapon against the airborne spread of COVID-19 and pathogens.”

     The next step in sharing this technology is to bring awareness of Far UV light to Arkansas school districts. According to Fitzpatrick, the process could take some time, but would be a highly worthwhile effort in the end. The 189th AW Innovation Team hopes that the effectiveness of the UV lights will appeal to schools throughout the state. As school is back in session, the risk of spreading coronavirus is ever-present.

     “Along with fully-vaccinated individuals and sanitized school environments, the lights can add substantial protection against aerosolized pathogens in high-traffic classroom settings and hallways,” Fitzpatrick said.

     The Innovation Team worked tirelessly over the past year to prove the concept and provide an implementation model for others to follow. Along with the wing’s 189th Medical Group, Fitzpatrick and key innovators requested consultation from the top medical schools throughout the Nation, gathering unbiased input and guidance from expert military and civilian sources.

     “Generally, Far UV can and should be used in schools, but only with expert guidance [regarding] efficacy and safety,” said Edward Nardell (MD) Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, and informal consultant on the 189 AW Far UV project. “The exact settings where they may be useful need to be assessed on a room by room basis...Far UV if properly filtered to remove dangerous wavelengths, if properly planned and installed, should be extremely safe for occupants for prolonged periods of time. The reason is physics. The amount of ultraviolet light simply does not penetrate human tissue sufficiently to cause serious health concerns.”