Wayne County sheriff's officials unveil anti-COVID air system

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Hamtramck — Wayne County sheriff's officials Thursday unveiled a biodefense system that they say will prevent the spread of COVID-19 and its variants in the three county lockups and other facilities by using heat to kill airborne spores and recirculate clean air.

The county has installed Integrated Viral Protection units in its three jails, and plans to soon equip its Detroit headquarters and the Road Patrol office in Westland with the devices, officials said at a press conference in the lobby of Hamtramck's William Dickerson Detention Facility.

Integrated Viral Protection  Principal Dr. Garrett Peel, left, listens as Wayne County Sheriff Raphael Washington addresses the media about the IVP unit in the foreground.

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The IVP system uses a "heated biodefense filtration technology," which its developers claim kills more than 99.9% of COVID 19 and anthrax spores. While the system is being used in schools, hospitals and entertainment venues in other states, Thursday's rollout is its first application in a U.S. correctional facility, and the first in Michigan, company and sheriff's officials said.

"This is just one of the many things we're doing to prevent the spread of COVID among our staff, our inmate population and the people who visit them," Wayne County Sheriff Raphael Washington said. "With this system, we're attacking COVID where it works: In the air."

Chief Robert Dunlap, center, Wayne County Sheriff Chief of Jails and Courts, addresses the media at a press conference as Assad Turfe, left, the Wayne County Executive's Chief of Staff, and Wayne County Sheriff Raphael Washington, right, listen. The event was held to discuss a biodefense air system that's been installed in jails and other sites to kill the virus that causes COVID-19.

The pandemic has hit the sheriff's office hard. Former Sheriff Benny Napoleon, Cmdr. Donafay Collins and Cpl. Dean Savard all died from COVID-19, while county officials have released dozens of jail inmates over concerns about the virus.

County officials and representatives from Houston-based Integrated Viral Protection displayed one of the air protection units during Thursday's press briefing. About a dozen such units were installed in the two downtown jails and in the Dickerson facility, officials said.

The system cost $300,000, $235,200 of which was drawn from federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds, said Robert Dunlap, chief of jails and court operations for the sheriff's office. The rest of the cost, shipping and delivery charges, was donated by the company, he said.

"This process started when Sheriff Napoleon went into the hospital," Dunlap said. He said Lt. Rachael Moore was asked to research how to slow the virus' spread, and that she recommended the IVP system after seeing how it had been used successfully in Texas schools.

Dunlap said while the new air system will make the jails safer, it's not yet been determined if COVID-related inmate releases will continue. 

The releases are recommended by sheriff's officials and representatives from the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, although the final decisions are made by Chief Judge Timothy Kenny of Wayne County Circuit Court.

"That's a decision that'll be made by the chief judge and the prosecutor," Dunlap said, adding that the parties meet biweekly.

IVP co-founder Dr. Garrett Peel said the system "is proven to catch and kill the virus that causes COVID-19 instantaneously. It's a unique bio-defense filter that uses heat to kill viruses in the air. It recirculates the airborne pathogens in real time, and dilutes and cleanses the air, and we're able to kill spores."

The system is being used in more than 100 schools, hospitals, entertainment venues and other facilities nationwide, Peel said.

Wayne County Undersheriff Daniel Pfannes said the new system is just one of several precautions officials are taking to prevent the virus from spreading. He said screening, taking the temperatures of inmates and staff, and other precautions have resulted in less than 1.1% of the jail population testing positive for COVID-19. 

"All the steps we've taken have intertwined to make everyone safer," Pfannes said.

Added Washington: "We lost not only Sheriff Napoleon, but a commander and a corporal to COVID. This is personal to us."


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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN