Researchers shine light on tech to kill virus as schools explore options to keep students safe

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In a dark, empty classroom at Queen's Grant High School, a faint blue hue can be seen through the vent.

"We’ve installed germicidal UV lighting in each of our HVAC systems," Christine Amaral, the school's CFO told Channel 9.

It's one of many things the high school in Matthews is doing to prepare for students to return in the fall.

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"We’re gonna take any approach we can, any means necessary to get students back to school, but also we want to make sure they are safe and comfortable," said Principal Josh Swartzlander. "They’re not going to be able to learn if they’re looking over their shoulder of who could cough on me or something. We’re looking at everything."

As school leaders work on entrance and exit rules, sanitation and bathroom procedures, social distancing measures, and preparations for ongoing remote learning, installing ultraviolet lights in their HVAC systems is another option they’ve turned to.

"So, as the system is running and the fan is on, it's cleaning the air in the vents," Amaral said.

"We just said, ‘If it could help, we’re gonna try it,’ and that’s really our direction," Swartzlander told Channel 9.

Raul Ortiz, with Carolinas Heat and Air Services, installed the devices at the school like he said he does in many homes and has also done in the past at clinics and hospitals. He said he’s gotten a lot of positive feedback.

"It eliminates bacteria, mildew and -- it's possible -- viruses in the system," Ortiz told Eyewitness News.

Ultraviolet light, specifically its ability to fight COVID-19, has been widely talked about in recent weeks. A representative from Amazon said their robotics team, for example, is beginning to design and test disinfecting with mobile ultraviolet sanitation.

Columbia University researchers are testing a technology that uses low doses of a particular wavelength of UV light to kill viruses without harming human skin and eyes, according to the university. Conventional UV light is harmful to humans.

“What Columbia is researching is a certain type of far UV-C light that could be on in large occupied spaces while humans are still walking through,” said Dr. Ryan Shelton, with Tryon Medical Partners. “So, time will tell if it is truly safe and if it is truly effective at killing what’s causing COVID-19.”

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Shelton said it'll be interesting to see what that research and testing finds. Currently, he said the effectiveness of using UV light against COVID-19 has not been well-proven and is not something that can be relied on.

“UV light can certainly kill some bacteria and viruses, and we do use it in hospitals in unoccupied rooms as a sterilization technique,” Shelton said. “The challenge now is we have to be certain that the certain type of UV light actually kills this novel new strain of coronavirus and that’s not yet well-proven.”

He said what we do know can help: hand-washing and wearing a mask. Those are also protocols that Queen’s Grant High School will have in place this fall. The school said it plans to have everyone -- students and staff members -- wear masks, with hand sanitizer in every room.

School leaders also said they plan to run on a staggered schedule, along with other social distancing procedures. Officials said they plan to take the temperature of each student and staff member every morning. Teachers will also sanitize desks between every class.

“It’s way more complicated than just getting some Lysol wipes and just wiping some desks down,” Swartzlander said. “It’s a lot more complicated than that, so we’re gonna take every approach we can to make sure students are safe.”

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