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Va. restaurant says it uses UVC lights to help stop COVID, but is it safe and effective?
An Alexandria restaurant group is using low-UVC lights to kill the coronavirus looks at how it works and if it’s safe for customers. Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. (Tim Barber/ABC7)

Mia’s Italian Kitchen has been a popular spot in Old Town Alexandria for three years.

But like most restaurants, the pandemic has taken a bite out of business. On Monday, the National Restaurant Association sent a letter to Congressional leadership to share new survey findings. Among those findings: More than 110,000 establishments have closed permanently or long-term during the pandemic. The D.C. Bar and Restaurant Workers Alliance estimates that about 80 have closed in the District alone.

Scott Shaw is a partner with Alexandria Restaurant Partners, which owns Mia’s Italian Kitchen.

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“I think customers are expecting us to make investments to make it a safer dining experience," said Shaw.

So the restaurant group regularly tests employees, and has installed an air purification system inside as well as far-UVC lights outside on the patio.

“The patron reaction has been great,” said Shaw. “This is exactly what they are looking for from restaurants. It’s a sign that we are thinking about them.”

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The lights from the Florida-based company Healthe use narrow wavelength far-UVC lights to sanitize the air and surfaces in real-time.

“I have been working on this for about 15 years now and it’s been an overnight sensation,” said Fred Maxik, founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Healthe. “[The light] actually disrupts the genetic material of the virus leaving it and rendering it so it can no longer replicate.”

7 On Your Side asked Columbia University professor Dr. David Brenner about how far-UVC light actually works.

“How effective is [far-UVC] light in killing the novel coronavirus?” asked ABC7 Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Tim Barber.

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“Everything we know so far is — it is going to be effective,” said Dr. Brenner.

Dr. Brenner said far-UVC light can have the same level of effectiveness as wearing a mask.

He also pointed out that you cannot use conventional germicidal UV in occupied rooms because it is a potential health hazard for the skin and eyes. But far-UVC light can safely be used where people are present.

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“If somebody on one side of the room sneezes,  how quickly would it kill the virus?" asked Barber.

“It is certainly not instantaneous, and it really depends on the design of the UV light in that room,” said Dr. Brenner. “But the general idea is you want to keep the level of virus in that room as low as possible.”

Shaw is hoping if the restaurant group follows the science, customers will follow them.

“What we are doing is taking every step we can to make indoor dining and our patio dining as safe as possible this winter,” said Shaw. “We are looking for government leaders who follow the science, too, and share that with us. And working together, we will get through this.”

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