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Clark County schools enlist ultraviolet light to zap coronavirus

The Clark County School District is rolling out newly purchased technology that uses ultraviolet light to zap disease-causing microorganisms like the new coronavirus.

The UVC disinfection system, which will be installed at all 372 district campuses, was demonstrated for reporters Wednesday at Kesterson Elementary School in Henderson.

The Arc system, developed by startup biosafety technology company R-Zero, provides hospital-grade disinfection for indoor settings.

The cost is about $20,000 per unit, or approximately $7.4 million in total, and was paid for using federal coronavirus relief money.

The Arc unit can disinfect a 1,000-square-foot space in seven minutes, destroying more than 99.99 percent of surface and airborne pathogens, said Grant Morgan, CEO and co-founder of R-Zero. It’s designed to be used while a space is unoccupied, but has no lingering effects when people enter a room after treatment.

“This doesn’t have any chemicals,” Morgan said. “It’s just light.”

R-Zero, which launched early in the pandemic, is working with more than 100 school districts nationwide, as well as other public places like hotels, restaurants and corporate offices, Morgan said.

The units, which look like towers with lights, won’t be used in every classroom every day, said Jeff Wagner, chief of facilities for the school district. They will instead be used for rapid response in case of a COVID-19 outbreak and to augment regular daily cleaning.

He said his preference is for the units to be used multiple times a day in restrooms and school health offices.

The idea is to disinfect a few classrooms at each school each evening, Wagner said, noting many schools are working on a schedule so it’s used in each classroom at least once a week.

The units, he stressed, are but one tool in the school district’s “layered mitigation strategy.”

“There is no silver bullet that is going to make a building 100 percent safe,” Wagner said.

The school district is looking at the purchase of the Arc systems as a long-term investment to combat other pathogens such as cold and flu viruses, Morgan said.

The units are most commonly used as part of a normal custodial process, he said. The bulbs in the unit last 16,000 hours, meaning it can be used for years before they need to be replaced, he added.

The unit emits ultraviolet C light — rays with a wavelength of between 200 and 280 nanometers — when it’s turned on in an empty room with the door closed. A bilingual door placard on the door warns against entering the room.

Though the UVC industry is not regulated, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website notes that it is a known disinfectant for air, water, and nonporous surfaces and has been used for decades to reduce the spread of bacteria, such as tuberculosis. Recent studies also have indicated that it is effective against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for the pandemic.

The FDA notes that there have been reports of skin and eye burns resulting from improper installation of UVC lamps in rooms that humans can occupy.

But Morgan said the R-Zero’s technology has built-in safety mechanisms, such as a shut-off feature if someone walks into a room when it’s running and a 30-second countdown before a cycle begins.

The company provides employees with virtual and in-person training for use of the units.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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