BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — The bright blue perp sitting in the back of the Whitehouse police car is a real killer – of germs, that is.
Sitting at about a foot tall, the UV-C light is one of the newest tools that the Whitehouse Fire Department is using to kill COVID-19 and other viruses in police squad cars, medic units and any village work areas where germs might be lingering.
The “bug-zapper” style light is one of two commercial UVC products recently purchased by the village to eliminate the virus COVID-19, which lives on surfaces for hours, said Fire Chief Josh Hartbarger during the April 7 Whitehouse Village Council meeting. A cabinet with UV-C lights was also purchased to sanitize the department’s N95 masks.
In a YouTube video posted on the department’s Face-book page, Lt. Kelly Norris, who handles the cleaning and sanitizing, demonstrates how the UV-C light works inside an ambulance. He opens up the cabinets in the back, pushes a button and exits the vehicle. Soon, a bright blue light comes on. The process takes about 10 minutes and is repeated in the driver’s area as well – since the light doesn’t penetrate Plexiglass.
“We’re using it a lot more in our bedrooms and the offices at the station,” Norris said, adding that officers on duty take turns using the same beds and living area, and germs could transmit among employees via surfaces.
“If someone is suspected of being exposed to a patient with coronavirus, we’ll use the UV light,” Norris said.
About six months ago, Norris began looking into options. Lucas County EMS has had a UV-C for about three years, using it in part to eliminate bed bugs, flu and other viruses. At times, such as when an officer had the flu, the WFD borrowed the light to eradicate the germs from common spaces.
“I believe it cut down on the spread of the flu to other employees,” he said.
Norris also worked with staff at St. Vincent’s to learn more about a cabinet that was retrofitted with UV-C lights to sanitize N95 masks.
“Thirty seconds of UV light will kill the virus,” he said. “We put our phones, keys and wallets in there as well as the masks. That should sufficiently cook it off.”
The process is the same as PhoneSoap, a product marketed to clean phones, Norris said. He’s used one for a few years.
UV-A and UV-B are the ultraviolet lights that come through the atmosphere and cause a sunburn, Norris explained. UV-C is filtered out by the ozone and doesn’t reach earth. The rays damage RNA and DNA, making the virus unable to replicate, Norris learned while reading the owner’s manual.
The cabinet works in the same way, decontaminating N95 masks – which block 95 percent of particles that are .3 microns in size or larger. The “N” means they are not oil-resistant. Some departments have the more expensive P100 masks, which are oil-resistant and block 99.9 percent of all particles .3 microns or larger.
“Up until two years ago, no one ever heard of a P100. When fentanyl came out, it was determined the powdered fentanyl would come through an N95 mask,” Norris said.
Masks will only be placed in the cabinet if exposure to COVID-19 is suspected because each time one goes through the process, it loses 1.25 percent of its effectiveness.
“Over a period of time, it’s no longer an N95 but an N90,” Norris said.
Finding ways to keep the department clean is a priority, as employees need to stay healthy in order to serve the public, he said.
“Soap and water takes care of COVID-19,” he said. “It’s not like Ebola, where you had to wear a full hazmat suit and hose down in bleach.”
He encourages the public to use soap and water to keep things clean. Anyone who suspects they have coronavirus should stay home and consult their primary care physician by phone, only going to the emergency room if short of breath or experiencing chest pains.
“Like the common cold, there’s not a vaccine or treatment. Just supportive care. That’s why we urge people to stay home and treat at home. Don’t infect other people,” Norris said.
Those who need to go to the hospital can ask for transport but should try to drive alone if possible. “We’ve had two or three suspected COVID-19 cases,” he said.
The UV-C light costs about $4,700 while the cabinet was $400. The light is being shared with Waterville Fire Department, which is awaiting one on order.