Westmoreland County is going high-tech in its efforts to disinfect county facilities amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Westmoreland County Commissioners on Thursday approved awarding a bid for the purchase of “Intelligent UVC Disinfecting Machines” to Pittsburgh-based Safe Space Technologies using $348,405 from the county’s federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding.
Westmoreland County Public Works director Greg McCloskey said the machines can be transported to county facilities and put into action to disinfect the spaces using ultraviolet light without the need for a human to be in the room to actively operate the devices.
The county is purchasing three autonomous mobile disinfecting robots and three disinfecting carts.
The autonomous robots resemble something from a science-fiction movie, with a wheeled base supporting a tall pillar of glowing ultraviolet light bulbs topped with a metallic dome. Sensors around the base and dome allow the robot to sense obstacles and move around rooms autonomously.
“They’re mobile and the nice thing about it is you don’t need an operator to use it while it’s in the room doing its job,” McCloskey said. “You can set it up in the room, lock the room so nobody can enter it and operate these remotely from a smartphone or tablet and let them do their job for as long as it takes to disinfect. Then you can go in safely afterwards and remove the equipment and move it on to the next area.”
“By combining the power of UVC lights and an autonomous mobile robot this robot is able to disinfect large spaces like lobbies, hallways, cafeterias effectively without any human interaction,” according to the Safe Space Technologies website says of the autonomous mobile disinfection robots. “Intelligent sensors enable the robot to avoid obstacles yet perform the disinfection service safely.”
The carts, meanwhile, feature four modular towers with UV bulbs that can be positioned in a room or hallway and operated remotely. The carts can disinfect a 36-by-36-foot room in less than 20 minutes and smaller rooms or hallways in less than eight minutes, according to the company website.
The Pittsburgh-based company was the only bidder meeting the county’s complete slate of specifications, including requirements that the equipment be autonomous with bulbs that meet certain wattage minimums, and that bidders provide information about both autonomous robots and disinfection carts.
“We believe the UV lighting disinfecting machines will be able to get in all the nooks and crannies that you might not get when an individual is doing that disinfecting with a misting machine or a water and peroxide solution,” McCloskey said. “We just think we can get a more thorough job.”
McCloskey said the added disinfecting capabilities should help put those residing in or visiting county facilities “more at ease knowing that we did as thorough of a disinfection process as we could. We believe that’s what those devices offer us.”
“We have so many different facilities with such different clientele — whether it be residents, inmates, county employees, state employees — at those facilities,” he added. “There have been a number of probable cases throughout those facilities, so what we wanted to do was get some equipment so that we could go in and disinfect and sanitize locations without putting employees at risk of going into those locations. We decided that there were some disinfecting machines with UV lighting that would meet our desire.”
The commissioners also on Thursday approved new coronavirus safety measures at Westmoreland Manor. The county will pay Excela Health $105 per test to administer COVID-19 tests to all of the county-owned nursing home’s roughly 400 employees as required under new federal mandates.
Baseline testing began this week, Commissioner Doug Chew said, and the results of the baseline tests will determine the need for additional testing.
Funding for the testing costs will come from a pool of $3.9 million in federal funds Westmoreland Manor received to help cover costs associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
Residents at Westmoreland Manor won’t be tested as part of the agreement. In-person visitation at the Hempfield Township facility has resumed, county officials said.
In other business of note, the commissioners approved:
- A resolution authorizing the retirement of Westmoreland County Prison K-9 Oz;
- Accepting a grant award of $182,545 from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency for Coronavirus relief for the period Jan. 20, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2021;
- A resolution authorizing expenditures under the County Relief Block Grant, including the purchase of the UVC disinfecting machines, the purchase from Autoclear of an additional x-ray scanner ($20,650) and walk-through metal detector ($3,895), and an agreement with the Westmoreland County Federated Library System to provide up to $141,000 for expansion of WiFi service to outdoor areas surrounding the system’s libraries.