UV Light May Fight COVID-19

Ultraviolet light has been used for years in hospitals to disinfect surfaces and kill superbugs. With the rise of COVID-19, the technology may soon be used in places like offices, restaurants and schools to lower infection rates. However, it hasn’t been proven to fight COVID-19.

UV lights have been used to fight other coronaviruses, like SARS. It has been successful, so there is good reason to think it could work for COVID-19. The New York public transport system (MTA) will be using the technology to clean subways, busses and other spaces. Amazon is making a UV robot to clean their warehouses and Whole Foods supermarkets. The UV light mutates the virus so it cannot reproduce and spread. While it might seem like this is the breakthrough we have been looking for, it is expensive. For instance, installing enough UV lights to be effective in an average Walmart would be around $100,000. The MTA plans on putting in 230 lamps at the cost of $1,000,000 over the next three weeks.

And, while one of Amazon’s roving robots might be cheaper, it can only clean the surface, not protect it from future contact with the virus. That means it could be cleaned every night but contaminated throughout the day. And it can’t be used while people are around because the type of light that is effective (UVC light) is dangerous for us. While the rays are in sunlight, the beams are blocked by the atmosphere. Human beings should not be exposed to the light.

UVC is really nasty stuff – you shouldn’t be exposed to it,” Dan Arnold, an UV Light Technology employee, said. “If your eyes are exposed… you know that gritty feeling you get if you look at the sun? It’s like that times 10, just after a few seconds.”

The lights could be used to clean police cars and ambulances. Now, carmakers are looking into putting systems into personal vehicles. Companies are looking for ways to make cars safer, believing people will put a premium on health as well as airbags in the future. One idea is to install UVC lights that clean a vehicle when it’s empty.

Recent events have directed us to investigate additional technologies for improving cabin air for our heating and air-conditioning systems,” said a Fiat Chrysler spokesperson. “We’re also looking at antimicrobial materials and easily-cleanable surfaces for our interiors.”

While all of this is promising news, home products probably aren’t worth the cost. They aren’t regulated, and they haven’t been proven to work. “If someone were to ask me whether they should invest in a home UV light, I wouldn’t do it right now,” said Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist, and professor at the Univ. of Arizona. “There’s just not enough data on them, and there’s a lot of room for user error.”

We’ll have to wait and see how effective the light is and whether or not good, proven home versions are released onto the market. In the meantime, we’re pleased that the advancements are coming out to aid public transport and make communal spaces safer. Technologies like these may be how we get back to our lives, even if they are different from how they were before.
May 22, 2020
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