Watchdog group, Georgia Tech professor question school district’s COVID-19 spending

Watchdog group questions $12 million spending on UV lights inside classrooms

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — A newly formed watchdog group is tracking the way one of Georgia’s largest school districts is spending money.

Last fall, the Cobb County School District bragged about “creative solutions” to protect teachers and students from COVID-19. The $12 million purchase included ultraviolet lights.

The district stated the UV lights are used to sanitize elementary classrooms overnight.

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“It seems like a complete waste of money,” said Stacy Efrat. “It doesn’t seem to be effective in preventing the spread of COVID.”

Efrat has three kids who attend Cobb County schools. She helped form a group called Watching the Funds- Cobb.

“You need to be responsible with taxpayer dollars. You need to be following the science and following CDC recommendations,” said Efrat.

On the district’s website, it stated low-voltage UV lights will be installed into ceilings and run for at least an hour every night while buildings are empty. The district claimed the UV lights will “sanitize the air and cleanse all surfaces of germs, bacteria, and viruses that cause illnesses.”

For context and a non-bias opinion, Channel 2 Cobb County Bureau Chief Chris Jose asked Georgia Tech biomedical engineering professor Dr. Philip Santangelo to weigh in.

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“In your opinion, is this a good investment?” asked Jose.

“Only if there’s data to support it. If there isn’t data to support their claims, I would be very skeptical of that,” said Santangelo.

Santangelo is an expert in the field. He has been testing the effectiveness of UV lights to fight COVID-19 in his lab.

“It does have to be used properly. How bright of a light is important. The contact time with the virus is important, even how wet the surroundings are. The environment can play a role on how effective they can be. The humidity can play a role on their effectiveness, but they (UV lights) can be effective,” said Santangelo. “The question is, ‘Are they being used properly? Are they being used in a way that’s helpful, and could they cause harm the way they’re being used?’”

ProTek Life is the company the Cobb County School District hired.

On its website, ProTek touts “germ-free surfaces” and claims the technology eliminates over 99.9% of harmful microbes.

“Without the data, I would be very skeptical, and I would be concerned about safety,” said Santangelo. “It’s very important to me, especially involving classrooms, that they have evidence of safety, and they have evidence of efficacy. Because if not, you’re wasting your money, and you could cause harm.”

ProTek does not cite specific data or research it conducted.

“How did they test this in the first place? How are they able to come up with that claim even? What experiments were performed?” asked Santangelo.

Jose called and left a voicemail with ProTek. When he did not get a response on Tuesday, he walked inside the company’s corporate building in Kennesaw. Jose found the office suite locked and nobody inside.

After Jose spoke with Santangelo, he also sent the district a list of questions. These are the same points Santangelo addressed during his interview with Jose:

“What data/information did ProTek Life share with CCSD to show the UV lights are safe and effective?

“ProTek Life claims on its website, the UV lights are 99.99% effective. What kind of study or research did ProTek Life conduct to make that claim? Did ProTek present that information to the superintendent and district leaders?

“What did ProTek Life do to test? Did ProTek use a mock classroom? Where did ProTek swab? Are there places it’s going to work and places where it’s not going to work? What pathogens did ProTek test?

“What safety measures are in place so the UV lights don’t come on when the classrooms are occupied with people?

“How many schools have the UV lights? How many schools left to install?”

A district spokesperson emailed Jose this response:

“In October, we invited all press to see these technologies in classrooms firsthand, representatives from each company answered dozens of questions from state representatives, press outlets, our Board, and the public at large. Dr. Santangelo’s questions about the product are best answered by the company. As detailed in this story about our COVID-19 response, this solution is one part of our COVID-19 response which has included support for student, staff, family, and community needs along with innovative technology to make Cobb school buildings healthier.”

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