3 local prisons will get air ionizers to fight COVID-19

Published: Oct. 8, 2020 at 8:42 AM EDT
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NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. - Three prisons in the CSRA will be among several in the South Carolina corrections system to get ventilation devices designed to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the state back in March, South Carolina prisons have seen 2,215 confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates and 31 inmate deaths. There have also been 493 cases among staff, and two staff members have died.

Now, the South Carolina Department of Corrections has come up with a plan to slow the spread of COVID-19 in a number of facilities. The department says it will attach air ionizers to the ventilation systems in most facilities.

“Those ionizers tackle the virus and knock it down and basically kill it,” said SCDC Director Bryan Stirling. “From research, it shows about 90% of the virus using these machines is knocked down.”

This new equipment aims to stop the virus from lingering in the air, which can help slow the spread, especially in those close contact prison living facilities.

SCDC Is looking at putting these ionizers in all prisons in the state, but as of right now, they will go in 16 of the 21 prisons. The prisons getting the systems will include the Allendale, McCormick and Trenton correctional facilities in the CSRA.

“We obviously have very close quarters and communal living at our prison system, no different than any other prison system in the country,” said Stirling. “So it makes it very difficult to socially distance, if not impossible.”

The decision to add these ionizers comes as the CDC released new information stating COVID-19 can be spread through airborne particles, which they say can stay in the air “for minutes or even hours.”

“That’s something that we have theorized for a while and have had that confirmed so we think this is going to be a tremendous help,” added Stirling.

These ionizers are expected to cost nearly $1 million.

WIS asked SCDC where the money will come from.

“We’re going to use it from internal canteen funds -- folks that are incarcerated buy stuff at the canteen,” explained Stirling.

Officials with SCDC say state senators have advised them to apply for CARES Act funding to help deal with some of the costs.

Prison officials clarify that these ionizers will help slow the spread, but they won’t be a complete solution.

“People have asked if this will stop the spread in prisons but that’s just not possible with our staff coming and going and then once it’s in it moves around,” explained Stirling. “However, this will severely we believe slow the spread inside our correction institutions.”

From reports by WIS and WRDW/WAGT.