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As South Carolina continues to adjust to a new normal, public transportation has become a focus of Santee-Lynches Regional Council of Governments.
To bring peace of mind to riders, the COG is working with the Santee Wateree RTA to clean its buses during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they're not just sanitizing the buses in an ordinary fashion.
In partnership with a UVC company that cleans surfaces with ultraviolet light devices, the COG was able to deep-clean the public transportation system on Monday in an effort to reassure its passengers with a safe and sterile form of travel.
The public transportation system has routes in the City of Sumter and downtown, a shuttle to Shaw Air Force Base and Sumter's Vocational Rehab and commuter routes to Columbia from Sumter and Camden.
Regional Councils are voluntary associations of local governments that promote intergovernmental and multi-jurisdictional coordination and cooperation with a goal to improve residents' quality of life. Santee-Lynches serves Sumter, Clarendon, Lee and Kershaw counties.
After researching an effective way to properly destroy something like a coronavirus via cleaning, Dennis Cyphers, COG chief of Government Services, arranged for SCUV Clean to help with the project.
David and Melanie Greenough, co-owners of SCUV Clean, have worked with Cyphers since April as they talked about the obstacles the state was facing with the pandemic.
"I've never seen so much fear," Melanie Greenough said. "I never would have thought we'd be in that situation."
The Greenoughs said they had no problem taking on the task because this was an opportunity for them to show what their cleaning process can do during a scary time like COVID-19, and they think public transportation is vital for the community.
According to Melanie Greenough, the technology and dosimeter cards they use are also used for NASA and other major medical facilities, costing almost $150,000 per system. SCUV made it more mobile and in a format that they could take to the state level.
"What we basically do is we take UVC light, apply it to a germ-killing process just like a lot of major companies and hospitals," David Greenough said. "It's the most eco-friendly way to sanitize anything because it's light."
On Monday, the Greenoughs had their crew place ultraviolet light devices, which is the same protocol used to sanitize hospitals, on the Santee Wateree buses. The lights run for 15 minutes, providing what they called triple coverage and killing every infected area on site.
"As soon as the UVC lights are on board, we actually use a monitor that will enable us to see the saturation to make sure the whole bus is being covered and there's no shadow areas that are missing the treatment," Melanie Greenough said. "One thing that we do while we're doing that is we actually use a dosimeter card, and that will actually show us at the end of the treatment what our results were to verify that we actually achieved where we were at."
Using monochromatic ink, they were able to identify the saturation level after the process was finished.
"The two milestones that you try to achieve, one is 50 millijoules per centimeter square, which if you achieve that, then you have actually been able to kill MRSA (an infection caused by a staph infection that is difficult to treat because of its resistance to antibiotics)," Melanie Greenough said. "If you hit the 100 millijoules per centimeter square, you're actually able to kill C. diff, (a bacterium that causes diarrhea and colitis), and if you're able to kill C. diff, you've pretty much killed everything else."
SCUV Clean cleaned 10 buses of various sizes, and David Greenough said the UV cleaning system killed essentially 100% of any pathogen that was living on the buses, giving passengers peace of mind knowing their transportation systems are now deep-cleaned.
"We focused on routes that had the most ridership for demo purposes to make sure that we got the concept and so we could see the saturation of what the UV light did," Cyphers said. "As we approach trying to figure out what our new normal looks like, this is probably one of the aspects of it as we return to work and return to engaging with others in our community."
According to Melanie Greenough, she doesn't know of anyone else using UV lighting to clean public transportation surfaces in the U.S. besides American Airlines.
"I think it's really cool to be on the cusp of something so new and something helping public transportation," she said.
Cyphers said it's great for Santee Wateree RTA to be the first in the nation to provide this public service.
"That says a lot just for our region, how innovative we're trying to be here to make sure we get back to the new normal," he said. "We need to make sure we are sanitizing, sterilizing and doing our best to get back out and not only get our workforce but our students and our governments back into order so we can go back to a normal operation."
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