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UNM to use sprayer that can kill COVID-19

The University of New Mexico athletic department is bringing a new weapon to bear in its fight against viral infections.

A germ-killing electrostatic spray system that can knock out COVID-19 among other nasty contagions was installed Sunday in the training room at UNM’s Tow Diehm Athletic Facility. Several more units are expected to be installed in locker rooms and other public meeting areas in the coming weeks.

CleanSpray Technologies is installing the units, which can be described as a kind of high-tech fogging system. They disperse an environmentally safe disinfectant solution which the sprayers electrically charge to bond with surfaces inside its coverage area.

“In lab testing it’s getting 99.9% coverage,” said Richard Cooper, CleanSpray Technologies’ chief science officer, who was in Albuquerque on Monday to inspect UNM’s system. “The solution is effective against E. coli, salmonella, MRSA and it kills COVID. We set it up (Sunday) night, activated the system and it killed every germ in the room.”

CleanSpray Technologies officials held a brief, socially distanced media conference Monday on an outdoor patio at Embassy Suites Hotel. They discussed the system, which is designed to disinfect a coverage area in 90 seconds or less. In addition to locker rooms and athletic facilities, the system can be used to help sanitize classrooms, said Roger McElwraith, CleanSpray’s vice president of business and development.

“We want to start with athletic areas and move on to classrooms,” MeElwraith said. “We hope this system can help get things back to some semblance of normal.”

UNM’s system is admittedly something of an experiment. CleanSpray Technologies has only been in the disinfecting business for a few months and UNM’s electrostatic spray system will be the largest it has installed to date. The Lewisville, Texas, company also is setting up a system at New Mexico Junior College and is working with several private businesses, McElwraith said.

It’s a low-risk proposition for UNM. CleanSpray Technologies is donating the system as it seeks to prove its effectiveness in an educational setting. UNM will be charged only for the disinfectant solution at a cost of $30-35 a gallon, McElwraith said. System installations could range from $10,000 to $200,000 depending on size and complexity, he added.

“It’s an intriguing concept,” UNM head athletic trainer Bob Waller said. “It doesn’t eliminate cleaning or any of the other steps we’re taking to fight coronavirus, but this system is one more step we can take to keep things safe for our students. It works against MRSA and flu viruses, too, so it’s not strictly about fighting COVID-19.”

Baseball coach Ray Birmingham played a role in getting the system installed at UNM. CleanSpray CEO and head engineer Tony Woods is a longtime friend of Birmingham’s and told him about the company’s venture into space sanitizing and protection in June.

“We got to talking about it and I felt like this would be something that could help our kids,” Birmingham said. “I called Bob Waller and he said, ‘Yes, this is something we need even without COVID.’ Things started progressing from there.”

Birmingham said UNM’s football locker room will likely get the next system with the school’s baseball clubhouse also on the list.

McElwraith said the system is typically used twice a day but can be operated more often as needed. The disinfectant solution, which is described as having a “pleasant lemongrass grapefruit scent,” is safe immediately after application but McElwraith recommended allowing a few minutes after applications to allow it to dry.

The system will not prevent virus spread between people but it can greatly lessen the chances of surface spread. The misting system can also help slow the spread by knocking down airborne germs, Cooper said.

Birmingham watched a demonstration and came away impressed.

“I just feel like it’s just a chance for us to do something,” he said. “We need to come up with some kind of new normal while we fight this virus. This is a positive step we can take.”

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