UV-C Disinfection: Boosting digital inclusion during the pandemic

In the past 12 months, concerns have been continually raised around a lack of digital inclusion for students without access to computers or a stable internet connection while learning virtually. Although classrooms are now repopulated, problems around digital inclusion still exist as many institutions do not have the facilities to efficiently disinfect and safely pass shared ICT resources between class bubbles.
There has been unprecedented disruption to the way schools, colleges and universities operate and to students’ education. Vast periods have been spent away from the classroom environment or contending with the confines of social distancing. Now that schools have reopened, there is lost teaching time to compensate for and effective sanitisation of equipment will be essential in providing the highest possible standard of education.
To comply with guidelines, schools are being forced to quarantine equipment for three days in between each use or to adhere to time-consuming disinfection procedures to ready it for the next class. Some educational facilities are leaving rooms empty for hours at a time following fumigation and some have put certain hard-to-clean resources, including computers and ICT suites, out of use completely. As a result, students have had to make do with reduced resources.
With school, college and university facilities open and outbreaks already sending classes home to isolate, decision-makers must make it a priority to protect students from further Covid-19 outbreaks without compromising teaching standards.
Using wipes and chemicals to disinfect classrooms and equipment is a cumbersome task that many teachers will be subject to in the coming months, but some institutions are using a sanitisation method that wastes less staff time while still ensuring thorough decontamination from Covid-19 and other harmful pathogens.
What is UV-C disinfection?
When pathogens are exposed to short-wavelength UV light (UV-C), the energy transfer which takes place prevents organisms from expressing necessary proteins or replicating, leading to their death or deactivation. This technology, which works on microbes present on any surface exposed to UV-C light, was first discovered more than 200 years ago and has been widely used to decontaminate water supplies since the 1950s.
UV-C disinfection is critical to the food and drink manufacturing process, as exposure to the light eliminates E. Coli, Salmonella and other harmful organisms from food products in a matter of minutes. Science laboratories and wastewater treatment facilities are other common users of UV-C sanitisation, and it has been identified as a water cleaning solution for third world countries. Medical grade lamps kill 99.9% of microbes in a five-minute cycle.
Given its efficacy in treating food and drink products and preventing cross-contamination in science labs, UV-C has a wealth of largely untapped potential as a day-to-day infection control measure. In schools, UV-C can be used to prevent illness from spreading via shared equipment and surfaces as it allows entire classrooms or banks of ICT equipment to be disinfected and ready for the next class within five minutes.
UV-C has been scientifically proven to kill bacteria, viruses, protozoan, mould and yeast, so incorporating it into virus control plans will protect students and staff from a whole host of illnesses, including coronavirus.
How effective is UV-C light?
Despite UV-C disinfection demanding significantly less time and effort than cleaning manually, testing by Uvisan found that UV-C kills over 55% more bacteria than using wipes alone.
In addition to providing the highest disinfection standards, UV-C light is zero waste, unlike wet wipes, and more cost-effective in the long run. Furthermore, UV-C light can be safely used on electronics, whereas wet wipes will damage them over time.
What problems can UV-C sterilisation solve?
Digital learning, and therefore the availability of appropriate ICT resources, are now critical to the education of many students, and equipment passed between students and classes poses a serious risk of spreading germs.
As electronic equipment will become damaged over time if continually exposed to moisture, wet wipes and other chemicals are not appropriate disinfection methods. Also, manually disinfecting an entire class-worth of keyboards, mice, headsets or tablets is an incredibly time-consuming extra task for teachers to undertake.
To sanitise individual pieces of ICT equipment, the power of UV-C can be harnessed in a cabinet. Once the cabinet is loaded, the items inside are exposed to a short cycle of UV-C light and can be safely used as soon as the cycle has finished.
As well as decontaminating items more thoroughly than can be achieved with wipes and chemicals, the cabinet doors are lockable to keep high-value items safe, and there are charging points so iPads and other digital equipment can charge whilst it disinfects.
Hazelwood School in Surrey has been using a UV-C disinfection cabinet since the beginning of the school year to reintroduce iPads into its curriculum. The school had to stop using the iPads initially as teachers could not reasonably be expected to disinfect the tablets between each class, but their removal from classes began to hinder teaching.
Nick Tappin, bursar at Hazelwood School said: “Ahead of the return to school back in September, we purchased a Uvisan UV-C cabinet so that the bank of iPads, used by the youngest learners, could be readily charged and effectively sanitised as they passed between class bubbles.
“The unit has been a godsend, protecting the pupils’ health and wellbeing while also allowing the same level of digital learning to remain within their timetable, and enabling the school to avoid buying more costly tablets. The unit is simple to use and has been deployed for the equally important task of sanitising headsets too.”
For institutions that need to disinfect whole rooms or fixed equipment within a room, ambient UV-C lamps can be installed to thoroughly decontaminate spaces.
The delicate equipment in Chichester University’s recording and audio production studio could not be effectively cleaned without using moisture or heat, which would cause damage. The installation of ambient UV-C lights into the studio has provided a resolution to the university’s problem, as the space and delicate mixing desk can be quickly disinfected without harming the electronics.
Although educational facilities have reopened for students, we are not yet at the end of the pandemic. In the past 12 months, schools have had to focus more than ever before on ensuring the safety of surroundings which has had a knock-on effect on digital learning.
By implementing UV-C into Covid-19 infection control measures, extra time will become free to invest into more important areas of learning and help digital learning technology make a safe return to the curriculum, ensuring thorough and rounded digital learning experiences.