Let There Be Light
Mother Jones|September/October 2020
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Let There Be Light
Is it a bright idea to use ultraviolet beams to kill the coronavirus?
By Maddie Oatman

AFTER TWO MONTHS two months on hiatus, Washington, DC’s Sauf Haus Bier Hall, and Garten reopened for rooftop dining on May 29. Before customers could sit down to taste the pub’s oversized pretzels and slurp down steins, they were given the option to pass through its new Cleanse Portal—a white entry gate emitting UVC light meant to zap any remnants of the coronavirus on their bodies and in the air around them. The portal is made by Health, a “lighting science” company that markets its Cleanse line as a chemical-free way to sanitize air and surfaces in busy environments. “Because let’s face it,” Healthe’s website states, “sharing isn’t always caring.”

Not to be confused with the UVA and UVB rays that reach us through sunlight, ultra violet-C light inactivates bacteria and viruses by damaging their DNA and RNA. In the 1930s, scientist William Wells discovered that UVC rays could neutralize infectious disease particles suspended in airborne droplets, and he later used the method to prevent the spread of measles in Philadelphia classrooms. UVC cleaning lamps now sanitize subway cars and hospital rooms, and as the worst shortages of masks and gloves took hold in the spring, health care workers across the country used it to sterilize N95 masks.


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September/October 2020