- R+D & Community of Interest
Classifying certain professions as „systemically relevant“ is easy. Actually, protecting them effectively against imminent infections is much more challenging. The trade and public authorities still too seldom rely on technical protective equipment that has long been available. The German Cleanroom Institute (DRRI) provides hospitals, supermarkets and emergency services with ready-to-use technical protective measures against the corona virus.
As long as no vaccine has been found, there seems to be only one strategy to fight the corona infection wave: We stay away from each other. However, social isolation, contact bans and curfews can only slow down the spread of the virus. They do not provide complete protection, especially not for those who continue to work at supermarket cash desks or in the transport industry, nor for those who provide indispensable services to the population in the health service and the police. All of them are either not or not sufficiently prepared for the encounter with the virus. Changes in behaviour are not enough. Technical solutions are needed.
The good news is that these solutions already exist – from a mobile hospital for 500 corona patients to air filters whose air flow forms a protective cover around cashiers and pharmacists, to the extension of corona tests to large sections of the population with laboratory capacities that are prepared in large laboratories. Solutions like these and more are available on call from companies in the cleanroom technology sector. They are technically mature and some of them have been used for decades in various industries such as medicine, microelectronics and food production. Due to the crisis, the knowledge of cleanroom technicians in dealing with dangerous germs is no longer only in demand in specific sensitive industries, but in the entire production and service sector as well as in public authorities. So why not also for the protection of employees at the supermarket cashier’s desk?
Improvised protection in the supermarket is not a solution
To categories certain professional groups as „systemically relevant“ is one thing. It would be much more challenging to effectively protect the endangered personnel at the cash desk, for example.
The virus still spreads much faster than practicable protective measures. Technical solutions in response to the corona crisis are largely unknown to the public. As the improvised protective measures at supermarket cashiers show, there is also little knowledge of professional protective measures in the retail sector. This will probably change as the crisis continues. Then, permanent solutions will be used to protect employees and the population not only from corona viruses, but also from other recurring infectious diseases, such as influenza, or allergenic pollen.
A solution for this, which could be implemented quickly, is offered by ventilation technology. It can effectively protect employees at cashiers‘ desks and product counters from germs carried in by customers. This is quite simple. All what is needed is a power connection for a filter- unit with the size of a package, which is suspended above every stationary sales workplace with customer contact. The easy-to-install air filter for protecting the cashier area cleans the air drawn in and generates a constant air flow as a protective cover for the employees. This displacement flow, a so-called laminar flow, constantly keeps germs, which are transported via the air, away from the employee. The flow is adjusted so that it is not perceived as unpleasant. Hospitals or the food industry already ensure locally clean workplace conditions. According to the manufacturer, the filter in the plug-in box lasts for about five years, the power consumption is about 150 to 250 watts/hour.
Instead of professional protection technology, however, you see mainly improvised makeshift measures when you buy. Employees are now sitting behind hastily attached Plexiglas panes or foils that reveal the good will of their employer, but hardly provide any protection. From the perspective of cleanroom experts, they have more of a symbolic meaning or provide moral support. Their dimensions and design are only randomly appropriate to the air currents on site, and they do not provide any protection against contamination via material flows. Goods and means of payment usually move from hand to hand.
A holistic, well thought-out concept would look very different. For example, it would include automated airlocks at particularly vulnerable points of sale such as the dispensing of medicines in pharmacies. These materials pass-throughs function without contact, are ventilated and offer a higher level of protection than non-ventilated dispensing systems. According to one of the suppliers, Ortner Cleanrooms Unlimited from Villach in Carinthia/Austria, they can be installed instead of the door and fitted with an intercom system. A systematic approach would also include the use of trained cleaning staff in department stores, as is common in cleanrooms. Instead of sporadically spraying the handles of freezers and showcases with a spray bottle, they systematically ensured a minimum of decontamination, despite public traffic.
From portable hospital to mobile lock container
Trade is only one of the sectors with jobs in need of protection. On the occasion of the Corona crisis, many cleanroom companies have called on their specialists to collect ideas on a wider scale: How can cleanroom and laboratory specialists help with solutions that significantly increase the level of hygiene everywhere in the economy and society? But when it comes to implementing the proposals, the companies are coming up against limits, literally. Many of their employees can only work and travel to a limited extent due to the quarantine measures imposed worldwide. Curfews and hurdles for imports and exports also hamper the business of cleanroom technicians.
One example is the production of a mobile hospital module in Ancona, Italy. Currently almost completely paralyzed by anti-corona measures in the crisis area itself, the mobile modules are more of an option for future disease prevention programs, despite current needs. „Shellbe“ is a transportable dust-free and germ-free clean room that can be set up faster than any stationary hospital. The expandable module of the German-Italian Adriatic Institute of Technology (AIT) could be used as a mobile hospital station, but also as an operating theatre, outpatient clinic, pharmacy or bio-laboratory. „Shellbe“, the English name given to the module, consists of „Shelter“ for shelter and „Shell“ for shell. The core is a basic module measuring 6 by 6 metres edge length and 3 metres height, no larger than a bus station. It can be completely disassembled and transported on normal pick-ups, whether on roads in this country or on rough terrain in a developing country. Further modules could be docked and just as easily transported away again. Systems with up to 1,000 beds are planned. Provided that they are procured with foresight, operators can build in line with demand and keep an eye on costs even in the event of a crisis.
Other and similar projects are in various stages of development. The engineering office DITTEL Engineering in Schlehdorf/Bavaria Highlands and Viessmann Technologies in Hof recently launched the mobile intensive care unit „DV Life Isle„, for example. In this environment, which is isolated from the outside world by ventilation, one to six corona patients could be cared for. Mobile lock containers are also ready for use. The transition from the isolated inner area to the unprotected outer world poses a particular risk for medical personnel and emergency services. The danger in this changing room area lurks in skin contact with contaminated protective clothing when taking it off. The airlock container provides a remedy. Personnel in protective clothing undergo an air or wet shower in it and only change their clothes after this cleaning. This airlock system is also suitable for fields of application such as personnel control and decontamination in airports or the flow of visitors in hospitals and nursing homes.
Airlocks in the outer form of conventional containers could be set up as so-called Safety Health Chambers in entrance areas – wherever large numbers of people have to be guided through, checked, tested or examined.
More testing: words can be followed by actions
Major laboratories are currently expanding their diagnostic capacities. For example, the laboratory LS SE & Co. KG in Bad Bocklet is, according to its own statements, „working flat out in coordination with the authorities to be able to contribute to the establishment of diagnostic capacities for the current case of infection“. In addition, the service provider is taking precautions to maintain the security of supply – i.e. testability – in its laboratories. All laboratory staff, including the specialist cleaning team and in-house technicians, are checked for microbiological contamination.
In addition to these crisis preparations on their own behalf, the assistance of laboratories is aimed at companies that have no expertise in the field of operational hygiene monitoring. They advise them on protective measures. The advice ranges from the concept to training, sampling and interpretation of the findings to the selection of the disinfectant. In order to determine whether a disinfectant is suitable at all, it must first be proven that it is effective against the so-called house germs found in the company.
Even if it is unclear how long the SARS-COV-2 virus survives on technical surfaces, it is undisputed that additional disinfection measures are useful. Not only hospitals can access the know-how of specialized disinfection service providers for the disinfection of their laboratory areas and quarantine and isolation stations. Medical and care facilities can also outsource the cleaning of highly contaminated workwear, for example to specialized dry-cleaning companies.
Cleanroom Institute passes on hygiene know-how to other industries
Services such as these are provided by the German Cleanroom Institute (DRRI), which pools the cleanroom industry’s expertise in the fight against the virus. Its contact partners pass on their know-how to hospitals, companies and institutions.
Founded in 2011, the organization represents the interests of the research-intensive cleanroom technology industry in German-speaking countries and has around 50 member companies. The cleanroom technology suppliers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland are regarded as the global technology leaders. More than 15,000 cleanroom technicians in Germany alone are dedicated to keeping germs and particles away from people and products. They are used to finding tailor-made solutions, because there is no off-the-peg cleanroom, at least not one that works optimally.
In addition to the transfer of knowledge and contacts to companies at risk of infection the DRRI also provides cleanroom operators with practical assistance in adapting to the new germ, for example in complying with the strict regulatory requirements for industrial hygiene. Microbiological services include sampling plans, the determination of suitable sampling points, cleaning and disinfection concepts and holistic hygiene concepts. Hygiene monitoring services range from external sampling to the counting and identification of microorganisms. Once the hygiene monitoring data have been evaluated and the causes of deviations have been found, corrective and preventive measures are proposed. In addition, training courses are offered that can be tailored to individual microbiological issues.
Cleanroom companies are learning by doing during the crisis. Vocational training institutions currently offer special behavioral training for cleanroom personnel and inform companies about internal ways of spreading the virus. The Corona virus is not simply a germ like any other, even for experienced cleanroom personnel. Due to the easy transmissibility of the virus, operators should put their barrier concepts and processes to the test, says the head of the Cleanroom Academy in Leipzig, Rüdiger Laub: „Corona demands intensive and targeted hygiene measures – also and especially in cleanrooms.
The range of ideas, products and services offered by cleanroom technology companies for use against corona virus infection is therefore broad. Using them can mitigate the course of the crisis. Because until a vaccine against Covid-19/SARS-COV-2 is developed, the following applies: The virus is a germ, hygiene is the answer.