The City of Scottsdale plans to spend over $2 million of its federal pandemic relief money on air-disinfection systems in public facilities to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The city plans to use ultraviolet light in air conditioning systems and near the ceiling in buildings to combat airborne spread of the virus.
The second option, called upper-room ultraviolet germicidal irradiation, has long been used in medical settings to combat the spread of airborne illness, said Dr. Edward A. Nardell, a professor of global health at Harvard Medical School.
Upper-room UV is not common in the U.S. due to a decline in tuberculosis, but is more common in countries with higher TB cases and is also used where Nardell works at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Ultraviolet light destroys the molecular bonds in the DNA of a virus or bacteria, affecting its ability to replicate and spread.
Nardell said the technology is particularly effective against viruses.
“We know it works; there’s no doubt about that,” Nardell said.
City staff also proposed using ionization, a technology that recently made headlines after a manufacturer and Phoenix-based church were reprimanded by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office for claiming it killed COVID-19.
“This technology creates ions that remove the hydrogen atoms of the virus, again disrupting the virus structure,” according to the city.
Dan Worth, Scottsdale’s public works executive director, said the city spoke with experienced consultants and had access to industry studies on its effectiveness. The city will also explore the use of high-efficiency air filters.
“Air purification technology using bipolar ionization and ultraviolet irradiation is not new technology. It has been used in various forms, including in hospitals, for years,” Worth said.
The city also cited several scientific studies touting the effectiveness of high-efficiency filters, ionization and ultraviolet irradiation in combating virus spread.
Ionization made national headlines in June when representatives from Dream City Church in Phoenix, which hosted a rally with President Donald Trump, claimed a new ionization air filtration system in the church would get rid of the coronavirus.
Shortly after the church’s video on Twitter went viral, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich sent cease-and-desist letters to both Dream City and manufacturer Clean Air EXP, calling the claims into question.
“The AGO is aware of no scientific research or public health authority that has certified any kind of air treatment product as a means of universally preventing COVID-19 infections at all or at any distance,” according to the letter to Clean Air EXP.
The city is not making the same mistake.
“We are not making any claims that these technologies achieve any specific purification rate, or that they make our buildings ‘safe,’” Worth said.
“We feel that prudent application of technologies that takes into consideration the configuration and use of each specific building will make the buildings safer than they are now, but there will still be a need for individuals using these buildings to take precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19.”
Nardell said a colleague of his studied the effectiveness of ionization for tuberculosis in Peru and found “reasonable disinfection over time.”
“The problem with ionization is just a very slow rate,” he said. “If I’m in the room with you, ... you have to disinfect the air quickly; otherwise you can inhale my particles before they’re disinfected.”
“So, the speed of which disinfection occurs is absolutely critical,” he added.
According to the Attorney General, the company had not even tested its system on the novel coronavirus before making the claims and instead tested against other viruses.
Nardell said ionization is simply a less proven technology than upper-room UV.
“We would have to see studies, not that you can do it under experimental conditions, but that you can do it in real life at a rate that really protects you,” Nardell said.
Nardell said many upper-room UV systems only treat the air, so there is still the chance that viruses with multiple distribution paths could still spread on surfaces.
He said there are newer UV technologies that can be used lower in the room and disinfect surfaces.
Worth said the city will likely make use of all three methods.
“In most cases we intend to install multiple technologies to enhance the benefits over relying on a single approach,” Worth said. “In most cases we will also be implementing other improvements to limit potential spread of COVID-19 through surface transmission as well.”
Those upgrades include the installation of touch-free fixtures and automatic doors.
Despite the effectiveness of upper-room UV, it appears it will only be used in larger spaces around the city, such as the Tony Nelssen Equestrian Center at WestWorld, due to concerns about exposing occupants to ultraviolet light.
Historically, UV technology was not used in public spaces because of UV’s harmful effects on human beings and connection to skin cancer, according to Dr. David J. Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia.
In recent years Brenner and his colleagues found that ultraviolet C light – not the ultraviolet A or B light found in sunlight that can cause skin cancer – can kill airborne flu viruses without harming humans.
“The reason people like to put it in the ventilation duct is they feel that there’s no safety issue whatsoever (in the duct)…but we’ve been using the upper room safely for 70 years,” Nardell said.
Nardell said using UV in the air-conditioning system may not be as effective as having it in the room.
“If we’re in the room together, it’s not very comforting to you to know that the air will be disinfected after it leaves…so, there’s not a heck of a lot of evidence at the moment of a lot of transmission through the ventilation system,” Nardell said.
“And when you put it in the room and you do a good job disinfecting the air in the room, that’s also part of the ventilation system, and you have the additional benefit of interrupting transmission in the room,” he added.
The city will spend about $1.4 million to purchase disinfection technology for public buildings that host large crowds, like Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale Center for the Arts and the Tony Nelssen Equestrian Center.
The rest of that money will be used to install touch-free fixtures, automatic doors and upgrade to the audio-visual system at Scottsdale Stadium.
Council also voted to spend $2.2 million to retrofit 14 city buildings with similar upgrades – including 950,000 for UV or ionization disinfection technology.
And it allocated $1.3 million for enhanced cleaning and protective equipment. Another $2 million was kept in reserves to use in response to a “resurgence” of the virus at a later date.
Overall, the City Council voted unanimously on July 1 to use $25.8 million – about 87 percent – of the federal money it got from the state.
While cities and counties with populations over 500,000 received direct allocations, municipalities with smaller populations were at the mercy of the state – leading to some criticism from smaller cities that did not receive a fair share.
For instance, in Scottsdale, City Treasurer Jeff Nichols estimated Scottsdale would receive around $45 million if the state awarded money using the same formula that the federal government used to dole out funds to large cities like Mesa.
Scottsdale’s share was just $29.6 million and of that $3.8 million will be saved for future pandemic-related needs.
Scottsdale spread its allocation around a wide range of uses, with the largest for public safety – including $4 million for “existing personnel and programs.”
Scottsdale also dedicated $5 million of its Cares Act money to aid businesses, though it’s still unclear where the bulk of that money will go since $3.5 million was allocated for “potential future business assistance programs.”
Mayor Jim Lane earlier this year cautioned that direct assistance to business could conflict with Arizona’s gift clause and the city’s own anti-subsidy language in the Scottsdale City Charter.
But Councilwoman Linda Milhaven disagreed, pushing for more relief for businesses.
“I know there’s many in the business community who are really looking to the city for financial assistance,” she said.
Numerous cities that received either direct aid from the federal government, such as Phoenix and Mesa, and those that received it from the state, such as Chandler, are using some of their funds for grants to distressed businesses.
The remaining $1.5 million in Scottsdale’s business assistance dollars will go primarily to indirect support, including marketing campaigns to promote downtown Scottsdale and the city as a destination for shopping and healthcare.
Another $750,000 will go to utility and licensing assistance for businesses.
The city also allocated $1.5 million to support 15 arts and culture nonprofits in the city.
Organizations that received funding include Arizona Musicfest; Cattle Track Arts and Preservation; Desert Stages Theatre; Detour Company Theatre; Taliesin West; Stagebrush Theatre; Parada del Sol Rodeo Museum; Scottsdale Artists’ School; Scottsdale Arts; Scottsdale Gallery Association; Scottsdale Historical Society; Scottsdale League for the Arts; Scottsdale’s Museum of the West; Scottsdale Neighborhood Arts Place/YourSNAP; and Scottsdale Philharmonic.
Scottsdale Arts, Museum of the West and Scottsdale Artists’ School also received PPP loans from the federal government, according to data released by the Small Business Administration.
Scottsdale also put $3 million towards aiding vulnerable residents.
That includes $1.4 million to help low-income residents with rental assistance and food banks as well as the city’s social service emergency fund, which aids residents with real-time emergencies like eviction.
The city is using $600,000 to expand the existing rental and utility assistance programs that currently provide around $35,000 each month, using funds from Maricopa County and tribal gaming grants.
The city will also use $200,000 to buffer the budget for Operation Fix-It, a program that helps homeowners with exterior repairs they cannot complete themselves due to financial or physical restrictions.
Operation Fix-it is typically fully funded via donations and the pandemic-relief funds will help offset the loss of donations from canceled events.
Another $450,000 will help residents struggling to pay utility bills.
‘Currently, Scottsdale’s Utility Billing Department has noticed a $70,000 increase in non-payments by residential customers comparing June 2019 to June 2020 and we expect this to increase over the summer,” according to the city.
The city also directed $823,000 to help the local homeless population, including $175,000 to pilot the Scottsdale Works program in collaboration with Phoenix Rescue Mission.
The city will also use $55,000 to fund day relief centers for the homeless in partnership with Community Bridges and area churches. Another $60,000 will be used to provide healthcare for homeless people.
Programs that support area seniors will also receive $812,000 to expand meal programs and other supports.
That includes $90,000 to expand congregate meals provided at the city’s Via Linda and Granite Reef senior centers. Another $75,000 will go to fund the city’s brown bag food program. The city added $125,000 to its home-delivered meal program.