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3 Wayne County jails become first in US to start installing COVID-19 air disinfectors

DETROIT FREE PRESS – Three Wayne County jails are the first detention facilities in the U.S. to implement groundbreaking heated filtration technology units to tackle the spread of COVID-19.


Thus far, 12 Integrated Viral Protection (IVP) units have been installed at five Wayne County buildings, three jails and two administrative. Through powerful circulation, the IVP units catch and kill airborne viruses — including tuberculosis, influenza as well as the novel coronavirus — while disinfecting the air. 


The decision to integrate the system was a personal one for Sheriff Raphael Washington, he said during the announcement of the new system Thursday, as it began under the leadership of the late Sheriff Benny Napoleon. Napoleon died of the virus on Dec. 17 after experiencing complications that required hospitalization.


“This is personal for us as it relates to losing people within our facility, but we want to make this technology great for everyone coming into our facility,” Washington said. “These losses have allowed us to focus to do all we can to prevent COVID from threatening everyone who comes in contact with this agency.”


The Wayne County Sheriff’s Office has been hit hard by the pandemic and has lost multiple personnel members, including one officer and one commander. According to the sheriff’s office, 270 members have tested positive throughout the pandemic. 


The IVP system is another layer of caution in the agency’s efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Other efforts include biweekly testing of personnel, frequent sanitization, and collaborating with Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to reduce the inmate population when possible.


Working with the county executive’s office, the agency has secured $300,000 in funding for this project but it will cost the county $240,000 thanks to donations, Washington said. A single venue mobile unit, which has a circulation of up to 2,000 cubic feet per minute, retails for $15,000. 

The sheriff’s office so far has employed 12 venue mobile units and 10 room mobile units, which retail for less than $5,000, in five facilities. It is fully operational at the county’s Division I, II and III jails, the sheriff’s headquarters on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, and its road patrol office on Henry Ruff Road in Westland. Authorities did not have an estimate for when all facilities will have the IVP system implemented. 


“We know that the virus can be suspended into the air, it can live amongst us for hours and it can even travel in HVAC ducts,” Dr. Garrett Peel, co-founder of IVP. “So it’s important that we are pumping clean fresh air to focus on the re-circulation and kill that whatever is in the air. And that’s what this medical device does.”

How it works

IVP devices are deployed into high-risk areas based on the Wells-Riley model that evaluated the infection risk among populations. Through powerful circulation, the disinfector essentially interrupts transmission by diluting and cleansing the air.


“This is not an air purifier, it’s an air disinfector,” Peel said, “and we’ve proven that by being able to kill spores.”


Spores are considered the gold standard by experts as the particles can survive harsh conditions and don’t require many nutrients. The devices can catch and kill spores at almost the same rate they can instantly kill SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus.


The heated filter inside the devices kills 99% of SARS-CoV-2 instantly, according to IVP’s research. The devices have been implemented in schools, office buildings, restaurants, and hotels across 36 states thus far. The Wayne County jails and administrative buildings are the first in Michigan.


As the size of coronavirus variant B.1.1.7 virus is the same as the original SARS-CoV-2, the devices are able to similarly attack the variant. 


“It doesn’t matter if it’s a variant or not, it’s the size that matters,” Peel said.


Detention centers in Michigan have proven to be particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, with high infection rates as many are in close proximity. More than half of the state’s B.1.1.7 cases have been reported at an Ionia prison.


Vaccination efforts have begun for personnel with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office and 350 employees have received either one or both doses of vaccinations.

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