NORWICH, N.Y. — As concern over the shortage of personal protection equipment (PPE) for emergency personnel and health care workers continues nationally during the COVID-19 pandemic, SUNY Morrisville’s Norwich Campus is doing all it can to help locally.
They’re providing emergency agencies in the Chenango County with use of an on-campus ultraviolet (UV) sterilization cabinet that allows for protective equipment to be used more than once.
The unit can sterilize up to 30 N95 masks, worn over the face to prevent the inhalation of airborne particles, and eight to 10 full-face shields. Its use allows departments to stretch their current supply.
“While not directly affecting the national shortage, sanitizing the PPE allows us to make fewer requests to the county and state,” said Jason Gray, a captain with the Norwich Fire Department and a student in the nursing program at the Norwich Campus. “This decline in need on our part allows those resources to be deployed to areas that are harder hit and in dire need.”
“Recognizing that the lack of access to PPE is a real threat to our fire departments, law enforcement agencies and health care facilities, we are honored to have the opportunity to support our local organizations who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lindsey Lefevre, director of the Norwich Campus.
The number of positive coronavirus cases in Chenango County as of April 10 is 55 according to the NYS Department of Health COVID tracker.
So far, the Norwich Fire Department, under Gray’s direction, has been the only Chenango County emergency service to utilize the Norwich Campus UV cabinet. It has also been made available to the Norwich Police Department and the Chenango County Sheriff’s Office.
“I used the cabinet once so far to sanitize a mixture of face shields, safety glasses and N95s and it worked great,” Gray said. “I will continue to use it about every three days to keep our supply of PPE sanitized and ready for use by our staff.”
Under normal circumstances, the PPE that the department is utilizing is for single use. “With this pandemic, we are being forced to look at alternatives,” Gray said.
Questions raised about vendors being able to meet their current needs for supplies became a growing concern for Gray.
As he began looking at ways to stretch the useful life of the current inventory, he remembered using the UV sterilizer in classes taught by Eric Diefenbacher, assistant professor of biology at the Norwich Campus.
The unit, located in the microbiology lab, is generally used to sanitize PPE, including goggles and safety glasses, used in labs.
“There is ample research proving that the use of UVC light for about 30 minutes destroys all viruses, not just coronavirus,” Gray said. “One such study focused specifically on using this technology during a pandemic response when supplies would run low — quite fitting.”
He ran the idea by Lefevre and Diefenbacher and got the nod to proceed with his plan.
“When SUNY Morrisville signed off on this, it provided us a bit of relief,” Gray said. “We know that we can continue to use the proper respiratory protection and eye protection without resorting to less effective types of PPE.”
Gray will also be collecting and sanitizing the used PPE from the Norwich Police Department to keep their officers adequately protected during the pandemic.
“I am simply honored to help and that Captain Gray thought of us,” Diefenbacher said.
“SUNY Morrisville has always recognized the unfailing support from the Chenango County community and this is our way of giving back during this crisis,” Lefevre said.
About the ultraviolet light sterilization unit (answers are provided by Eric Diefenbacher, assistant professor of biology at the SUNY Morrisville Norwich Campus.)
What is the UV unit?
It is a cabinet, located in the microbiology lab at the Norwich Campus, mounted on a wall. It uses a special bulb that emits UVC (there are UVA, UVB, and UVC wavelengths) rays that kills bacteria, viruses, and protists by destroying proteins, fats and DNA.
What is it utilized for generally?
In the Norwich labs, it is used to sanitize personal protective equipment (PPE) including goggles and safety glasses. Students go through a required safety lab no matter what the science course, and PPE is part of that.
How does it work?
It works by emitting UVC rays that destroy germs or prevent them from going through metabolism. The cabinet is loaded with PPE, the doors are shut and the dial/timer/switch turned to the desired amount sterilization time. The cabinet turns off automatically. Generally, 30 minutes is enough time to kill germs.