Willacy wages high-tech fight against COVID-19

RAYMONDVILLE — Willacy County is going high-tech in its battle against the coronavirus.

So far, the Raymondville school district, Willacy County and the county’s Emergency Medical Services agency have purchased bipolar ionization systems to help protect their buildings from COVID-19.

Now, Raymondville officials are planning to install the system in the city’s public buildings.

Earlier this week, city commissioners gave City Manager Eleazar Garcia the go-ahead to purchase the technology.

“ We’re doing this for the protection of our employees and citizens when they come in,” Mayor Gilbert Gonzales said Wednesday. “It’ll be good to know people are protected.”

At City Hall, Garcia said he’s planning to spend about $15,000 in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES funding to purchase the technology priced at about $1,200 to $1,500 per unit.

Officials are planning to install units at City Hall, the Rural Technical Building, the police station and the water and sewer plants, Gonzales said.

Garcia said the units will be installed in the buildings’ air conditioning and heating systems.

“ The technology will remove bacteria and flush it out of the building,” Gonzales said.

At county offices, county commissioners have tapped about $10,800 in CARES funding to install the technology at the county’s emergency shelter at the Willacy County Housing Authority, County Judge Aurelio Guerra stated.

Now, officials are considering purchasing units to install at other county buildings including the Willacy County Jail, he stated.

EMS protects station

More than two months ago, Frank Torres, the county’s emergency management coordinator, dipped into CARES funding to buy about $6,000 worth of units to help safeguard the county’s EMS station’s 10,000-square-foot front offices and living quarters.

“ We pick up infected people every day,” Torres, who serves as the county’s EMS director, said. “Even though we use (personal protective equipment), it makes sense to clean up and sanitize the air for my crews.”

Raymondville school district takes lead

Across much of the county, officials are following the Raymondville school district’s lead.

Earlier this year, the district spent $626,000 to install the technology across its 500,000 square-feet of classrooms, gymnasiums, cafeterias and offices, Deputy Superintendent Ben Clinton has said.

“ The only thing more important than student success is student safety,” Superintendent Stetson Roane wrote in a message to parents. “That is why Raymondville ISD has invested in needlepoint bipolar ionizers, an air-purifying technology that eliminates bacteria, mold and viruses including COVID-19 from the air and surfaces.”

A long-established technology, bipolar ionization employs basic biology to kill viruses such the coronavirus, Clinton has said.

“ The needlepoint bipolar ionizer utilizes specialized tubes that take oxygen molecules from the air and converts them into charged atoms,” a district press release stated.

“ These charged atoms surround and deactivate harmful substances like airborne mold, bacteria, allergens and viruses. The end-result is cleaner and healthier air for occupants to breath, without the use of harmful chemicals.”

Long-established in Europe, bipolar ionization was introduced in the United States in the 1970s to control pathogens in food processing.

By 2004, the technology was proven effective during the SARS outbreak before taking on outbreaks of MERS and norovirus along with various strains of influenza, according to April’s edition of Business Insider.

According to the magazine, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Children’s Hospital Boston and the University of Maryland Medical Center have implemented the technology as well as airport terminals at LaGuardia, O’Hare, LAX, and San Francisco International.

Meanwhile, venues such as Tampa’s Amalie Arena along with JFK airport’s TWA Hotel are implementing the technology that’s being installed at such office complexes as Google headquarters in Chicago and San Jose, the magazine states.

fdelvalle@valleystar.com