Knox County Detention Center using UV light machine to 'zap' COVID-19 off surfaces

UV Light Knox County detention Center.jpg
Posted at 4:54 PM, Mar 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-11 18:01:32-05

BARBOURVILLE, Ky. (LEX 18) — Since the pandemic outbreak in Kentucky, LEX 18 has received hundreds of emails from viewers concerned about the spread of COVID-19 inside Kentucky’s detention centers.

Some might argue that the spread there isn’t relevant, given the inmates are locked down, and not likely heading to the mall, or some other public setting anytime soon. But what about those who visit the detention centers? What about the guards and other staff members who go home each night? Or the inmate who is only being held until arraignment and is eligible for release soon after? Or what about the older, high-risk inmate? Does he, or she deserve to die, or become very sick with the virus?

Regardless of whether or not one thinks it was a problem worth addressing, the Knox County Detention Center in Barbourville decided to take matters into its own hands to help control the spread, if not altogether eliminate it inside the building. Using grant money, and funding from the commissary, the detention center purchased a R-Zero machine, which uses UV-C light bulbs to essentially burn the virus off surfaces. And it works on more than just coronavirus.

“It’s for MRSA, Hepatitis-C, Tuberculosis, Lice, bed bugs, really anything that might be not healthy for us,” said Jailer, Mary Hammons.

Hammons invited LEX 18 into the correctional center for a look at the machine. It’s about a six and half-feet-tall cylindrical post, with lights on all sides. The bulbs can burn for nearly 10,000 hours without being changed.

“We did a lot of research on this. And we were given extra bulbs,” Hammons said.

The machine can be wheeled into any common area or private cell and takes only seven minutes to disinfect a space of up to 1,000 square feet along with any objects in that space. Hammons said they utilize it once each week. The room in which it’s being used has to be emptied before the machine will do its work.

“We have 300 inmates at any given time, so to do it more than one weekly, makes it tough to move so many people around,” Hammons explained.

Hammons added that the video conferencing court room, where inmates can participate in their court proceedings, is disinfected after each use. Other common areas are easier to ‘zap’ more frequently when they aren’t in use.

Those who think this machine would be better served inside a Knox County school, rather than county lock-up, should know that, that wasn’t an option. 100 percent of commissary money has to remain inside the facility, per state and federal laws. Hammons didn’t have to spend that money on the R-Zero, but anything she decides to spend has to be for the facility. And we’re told, since this machine is one of the first of its kind being used in the region, they were given a good price, and warranty.

“I’d like for it to be in school, but the reason it’s in the jail is because we’re doing a lot of personal things together in a room and with people from other communities, and they’re being exposed to each other,” Hammons said.

The machine works to kill 99.99% of any virus that’s been shed and left behind. That should serve to more than ease the concern many have had about the virus spreading at jail, and eventually into those neighboring communities.