Wisconsin Tribal Casinos Using UV Light to ‘Kill’ Coronavirus, Tech Could Work in Schools

Wisconsin Tribal Casino

CRANDON – As tribal casinos reopen amid the ongoing pandemic, some are utilizing ultra-violet light systems in their ventilation ducts to help neutralize the coronavirus.

The Sokaogon Chippewa Community recently installed such a system made by the California-based company UltraViolet Devices, Inc., at its Mole Lake casino and lodge in Crandon.

“Tribal leadership is committed to enhanced measures to ensure the safety and well-being of our guests and employees as we reopen,” said Johnny L. Phillips Jr., assistant general manager of the Mole Lake Casino, in a statement. “As part of multiple facility upgrades, including touch-less restrooms, we’re pleased to work with UVDI to install its state-of-the-art UV air disinfection system.”

The tribe, which has around 1,400 members and a 4,900-acre reservation, has reported zero COVID-19 cases, which tribal officials attribute to enhanced testing and tracing.

The casino also has been closed for an extended period of time to limit potential coronavirus exposure, and tribal officials hope to keep COVID-19 cases at zero with safety protocols as they reopen, such as with UV light disinfectant.

“UV-C germicidal lamps are installed inside the HVAC system duct work,” said Will Gerard, spokesman for UVDI, about how the system works. “As the air passes the UV-C light, it ‘kills’ more than 99% of the virus immediately. The air is recirculated to the HVAC system from the casino space, therefore cleaning the air in the casino.”

The Forest County Potawatomi started working with UVDI in 2012 and again in 2017 and 2018 to install systems that would help eliminate odor from smoking at the tribe’s casino in Milwaukee.

Dave Brien, casino facilities director, said tribal officials also were aware that the system would help eliminate viruses when they were being installed.

“We’re filtering air to the level of a basic surgical suite,” he said. “Most systems only filter the outdoor air (coming in), but during a pandemic, it’s the indoor air you want to filter.”

The Milwaukee casino reopened June 8 with other safety measures still being practiced, such as checking the temperature of everyone entering the building, operating on limited hours and capacity, Plexiglas dividers installed between slot machines and increased sanitizing.

Brien said no one has contracted COVID-19 at the casino since reopening, to his knowledge.

He said that although the UV disinfection system is not advertised to customers, employees are aware it’s there, offering them more piece of mind.

School district officials are also considering installing UV disinfection systems as some prepare to welcome students back.

Dr. Edward Nardell, a Harvard Medical School professor who specializes in airborne diseases, told the Associated Press that the danger in schools is from ineffective air systems that don’t remove floating viruses and let them linger in classrooms after an infected person visits.

Stephen Murley, superintendent of the Green Bay Area Public School District, told the AP that most of the district’s schools have older air systems set to recirculate drier indoor air to prevent mold during high humidity. But combating coronavirus requires fresh air.

Ultraviolet light technology was developed during the 1950s and is still in use in hospitals, but experts believe schools and other entities should consider installing the lights, which can cost $3,000 per classroom.

“The pandemic has driven inflection point growth in demand for our UV-C air and surface disinfection products,” Gerard said.

The company has been in business more than 70 years and its systems are installed in more than 10,000 buildings globally, including hospitals and museums.

Brien said installation of the UVDI system wasn’t cheap, but “it was the right thing to do.”

“We are always looking at what we can do to improve the air quality in our casinos,” he said.

Brien said tribal officials are researching needlepoint plasma technology that’s now available that would also eliminate the virus without the use of UV light.

Frank Vaisvilas is a Report For America corps member based at the Green Bay Press-Gazette covering Native American issues in Wisconsin. He can be reached at 920-228-0437 or [email protected], or on Twitter at @vaisvilas_frank. Please consider supporting journalism that informs our democracy with a tax-deductible gift to this reporting effort at GreenBayPressGazette.com/RFA.