Using tried, true tech to fight the pandemic

A look at the UVDI-360 Room Sanitizer used to disinfect an operating room at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. PHOTO COURTESY ULTRAVIOLET DEVICES INC.

Companies in every industry rely on innovation, especially those working in the medical field. 

However when the pandemic hit, it was ironically a technology that’s been around for ages that’s been a significant tool in the fight against COVID-19.

UltraViolet Devices Inc. in Valencia is a global leader in UV-C, which uses disinfecting robots sent to hospitals across the nation and worldwide, including right here to Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, to curb the spread of coronavirus and other infectious diseases. 

Each and every day, hospitals take precautionary measures to prevent the spread of infection from patient to patient, and it’s common practice to deep-clean rooms where there was an infection — but cleaning chemicals can only remove so much of the bacteria.

That’s where the UVDI-360 UV-C robot comes in, proven to reduce human coronavirus by 99.99% in only 5 minutes, along with at least 35 other pathogens, according to third-party laboratory testing.

UVDI has been working on the technology for a decade, with a decade’s worth of work going into proving its effectiveness.

“In 2010, when we developed the first mobile unit, it was challenging because there was no evidence about it, there were no studies,” CEO Peter Veloz said. “I’m not going to recommend someone uses our equipment for an identified mass disinfection(without) science behind it.”

It was when these studies found that UVDI’s robot was not only able to kill 99.99% of pathogens, but also reduce a hospital’s infection rate. 

Esther Tovar, gathers components as she assembles UVDI-360 Room Sanitizers, at Ultra Violet Devices In. in Valencia on Thursday, September 24, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

“That was the big game-changer,” Veloz added. “We saw a greater increase in adoption after that (study).”

Since then, UVDI has continued to figure out how to make their product durable, yet affordable, while continuing to test each component for efficacy. 

“It has to be like a tank,” Veloz added. “They’re called a robot, but they’re used daily, slammed into walls, shoved into closets at the end of the day. … We are selling this stuff to a hospital under a premise and a promise that the clinical evidence that we produced will be reproducible in your hospital.”

In the hopes of allowing hospitals to continue to produce those results when the robot reaches their hands, UVDI came up with Dose Verify, which works via a UV-C-sensitive coupon that colors when exposed to UV-C energy.

“The dose card is used in a hospital to set the protocol for how long we should run the device, so there’s no guesswork,” Veloz said. “It can signal to you when you’ve gotten to that C. diff high-level kill, and that’s really the benefit.”

When the pandemic hit, the UVDI-360 was in high-demand, with hospitals everywhere in dire need of something to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“Everyone wants UV, and these lamps are all built on a historical baseline of demand, then all of a sudden global demand spikes,” Veloz said. “They still have to be manufactured, and those places are dealing with COVID, then times that by 20 over all of our components, not just lamps.”

Even so, the UVDI-360 UV-C robot has been the same, recently being recognized by global health care leader 3M as a coronavirus decontamination method that will not damage its respirators.

“It was the right equipment before, and it just became all the more so during (the pandemic),” Veloz added, “so all we had to do is just do make more of them, not change anything.”

Peter Veloz, CEO of Ultra Violet Devices Inc. examines a row of UVDI-360 Room Sanitizer, disinfecting robots that are ready to be shipped from UVDI in Valencia on Thursday, September 24, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

Other uses for UV in combating COVID-19

Among other ventures, UVDI has also worked on putting UV-C into air filtration systems, which can reduce the transmission of airborne illnesses, with its technology in 10,000 buildings around the world, including all seven terminals at Los Angeles International Airport. 

“We’ve been doing it for over 20 years, and now it’s just hitting,” Veloz said. “Now we’re even learning in the popular current media that (COVID-19) can transfer through the HVAC system.” 

COVID-19 created the perfect storm, making demand for UV disinfecting products skyrocket. 

That’s why UVDI, along with UV Resources and Applied Companies, are among local companies working with the SCV Economic Development Corp. and Santa Clarita City Council to figure out how to adapt their technologies into other settings in their local community. 

“We have a special moment, time to get off the normal map and try and take care of our own community in a way that might take some creativity and maybe some coordination with other companies to work together,” Veloz said. 

At UV Resources in Valencia, President Daniel Jones agrees that it’s a crazy time relative to the application of UV.

“The pandemic has affected the whole industry by increasing interest and increasing sales and applications of UV around the world, actually to the point that there’s a shortage of glass for UV lamps,” Jones said. “UV has been around for well over 100 years in fighting infections and infection control, so it’s definitely a technology that’s well equipped to deal with the epidemic that we’re currently facing.”

As with UVDI, the technology UVR uses has been around for decades, with it specifically being the company’s niche for 15 years now, yet it had not garnered a lot of interest other than in health care settings until recently. 

Peter Veloz, CEO of Ultra Violet Devices Inc. peers into the UV lamp testing room at UVDI in Valencia on Thursday, September 24, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

“Now we’re seeing more and more interest and demand for products in the commercial settings and in schools,” Jones added.

In fact, ultraviolet germicidal irradiation products have been used as early as the 1930s to prevent the spread of measles in schools.

“I think that there’s always been a number of people who are concerned about indoor air quality,” Jones said. “Health care facilities are definitely concerned about that because infection control is a big deal in there, but in commercial buildings it’s been a ‘nice idea.’”

Pre-pandmeic, Jones believes UV was considered a luxury or afterthought, not a necessity. 

“It’s gone from, ‘That’d be a nice thing to have,’ to ‘We absolutely need it because of the pandemic,’” Jones added. “We have to provide a safe environment for our employees to come back to.”

In the first months of the pandemic, UVR’s inventory was quickly snatched up, as interest in UV quickly grew.

“What we would consider an annual amount of a certain product was scooped up within the first 30 to 60 days,” Jones said. 

As with UVDI, Jones felt the constraints of the global supply chain, as the UV market grew from what Jones considered “niche” to one of the top technologies fighting COVID-19 worldwide, according to Jones.

“There’s just such a knowledge of UV in the general public that … our industry and the world view, so to speak, of UV has changed forever,” Jones added. “Because UV has this 100-plus-year history, which includes multiple scientific studies about how it works, it’s been something that has really been the stalwarts in the industry.”

Similarly, Applied Companies, a national leader in the manufacturing of environmental control units that primarily works with the aerospace and defense industry, are adapting its technologies developed to create mobile clean rooms for satellite transportation for other applications.

“What we’re doing is we built a filtration unit that brings our clean room air conditioning systems for satellites to the classroom,” Applied Companies Vice President Joseph Klinger said. “The idea is that we do the same filtering, the same air changes we would do, only in the classroom.”

By the time a child graduates from high school, they will have spent 15,600 hours indoors inside of a school, according to a book published by Harvard University Press, with various studies over the years showing inadequate ventilation was a cause for concern in students success.

One particular study cited found that more than 3,000 fifth-grade students had higher math, reading and science scores in classrooms with higher ventilation rates.

“Nobody’s ever cared about indoor air quality until recently,” Klinger added. “Everything has always been about power consumption. How cheap, how little energy can we make this air conditioner run on? And as a result, indoor air quality has taken a backseat, and now we’re paying for it. … We do very little in the way to take care of our indoor spaces.”

As with UVDI and UVR, Klinger’s technology has been tried and tested, yet only came into the limelight recently.

“The technology has existed for 15 years to take care of this,” Klinger said. “What we’re doing is not anything new, other than the way that we’re doing it is new.” 

Applied Companies’ prototypes have adapted that technology, with products set to begin being shipping in a matter of weeks.

“The goal is to get the schools open,” Klinger said, “but if this is a product that finds legs and people like, then we’re happy to support it and happy to build it. … We’ve funded this R&D effort partly on our own dime … and we’ve yet to sell one, so we’ve definitely made a commitment. 

“It’s easy to put clean filtered air above our heads,” Klinger added, “and that’s what we’re trying to do.” 

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