FALLS CHURCH, Virginia — It looks like something out of science fiction: a portal made up of ultraviolet lights, designed to kill an enemy you can’t see.
“That's kind of the first layer of protection that we've implemented,” said Christian Pinkston, who heads up his own strategic communications firm, Pinkston.
Fifty employees usually work within its 16,000-square-foot office. At the moment, though, it’s far fewer.
“Right now, it's dark and lonely,” he said.
So, Pinkston decided to turn to new technology to try and create a safer workspace for when employees return. That starts with the portal of UV lights, designed to kill any pathogen -- including the coronavirus -- that may be on any person or thing.
“Every guest or staff member will walk through you do kind of a slow turn,” Pinkston said. “Every delivery, every package, will be cleansed before it gets into our space.”
The technology takes off from there.
There are ultraviolet lights in the ceiling--at a level safe for humans, but deadly to viruses. Also, there is titanium dioxide, a compound sprayed on everything in the office and said to self-disinfect any surface for up to a year.
“When a virus or bacteria or microbe lands on a surface that's been coated, it will automatically deactivate it very quickly,” Pinkston said.
Plus, there’s now a real-time, air monitoring system installed.
“Soon, it will specifically be able to detect the coronavirus present in the air,” Pinkston said.
Researchers at Columbia University found that specialized UV lights, also known as far UV lights, could eradicate two seasonal types of airborne coronaviruses. But what about the rest of the tech?
“There’s not enough data yet to know what’s safe and what’s effective,” said Dr. Donald Milton, a professor of occupational health at the University of Maryland. “I’m thinking a lot about what kind of investments make sense to try to protect people in workplaces.”
Dr. Milton said it’s understandable for people to turn to technology as a coronavirus fix, but the eventual solution will require more.
“It’s going to be a combination of figuring out which technologies do work in the workplace, getting good ventilation in workplaces, getting good air sanitation, having good cleaning practices,” said Dr. Milton, adding that widespread testing would be required, as well.
Back at his office, Pinkston said it’s all been worth the investment of tens of thousands of dollars.
“It's a huge effort,” he said.
Recently, Pinkston conducted an anonymous employee survey and found many employees still fear returning, despite having that new technology installed. So, for now, the company has no set date for when workers there might go back.