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Health Parish Life

St. Bernadette’s shines light on coronavirus

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With churches opening up for Mass, many parishes are assigning crews to wipe down pews and door handles between Masses to fight the coronavirus. St. Bernadette Parish in Orchard Park has taken an alternate approach. Along with chemical cleansers, the parish is using special hospital-grade UVC lights that kill 99.99 percent of germs.

Father Robert Owczarczak, parochial vicar, first saw these lights during his clinical pastoral education at the Cleveland Clinic while in priestly formation. “When I was at the Cleveland Clinic this is what they would use to disinfect the rooms when people had a contagious virus,” he explained. “You turn the lights on and they break down the DNA of the viruses and bacteria. It’s the light the sun uses, but our ozone and environment filter out the UVC lights so it doesn’t affect people.”

The reason for switching to the lamps was a safety concern over all the chemicals being used. “We were looking at a lot of the chemicals and if a kid is in the church, he has his hand in his mouth, then puts his hand on the pew, then puts his hand in his mouth again, how is that going to affect the children? How is it going to affect the varnish and the wood? We were talking about how many gallons we were going to need to use to disinfect,” Father Owczarczak said.

The ultraviolet light can harm other living things, so all plants, animals and people must be out of any room while the lights are on.

“After the church is empty, we will close the doors and turn on the lights and lock all the doors. Then we will spray down the rest of the place,” explained Father Owczarczak.

Each of the Tool Klean lights covers 1,000 square feet. Father Owczarczak said the six lights that St. Bernadette’s uses are actually “overkill” for their space. “But we want to make sure we have enough.”

The Tool Klean website claims “Tool Klean UVC Light Sanitizers are the safe, easy, fast and eff ective way to help keep surfaces, hand tools, and your environment free of germs.“ While the company claims to kill salmonella, staph, bacteria, viruses, fungus and mold effectively and quickly,” their website mentions that its product has not been tested specifically on the COVID-19 virus, but claims ultraviolet light can kill the similar SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV viruses.

The parish will still follow all the other protocols for safe gathering. “We’re just not saturating out church in the chemicals,” said Father Owczarczak. “This is a very safe and chemical-free way of disinfecting. We will still be using other disinfectants on the bathrooms, doorknobs and places where people will be touching.”

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