Innovation and Fiscal Responsibility, in the Face of COVID-19
During a virtual press conference given Monday, April 27, 2020, Sheriff Alex Villanueva was joined by Dr. Christina Ghaly, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Service; Chief Daryl Osby, Los Angeles County Fire Department; Captain Chris Kovac, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department-Custody Support Services; and Director Wesley Grose, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department-Scientific Services Bureau.
The event was held at the COVID-19 Regional Decontamination Center, located at the first Los Angeles County custody facility built in 1963 specifically for women and named for philanthropist and women’s rights advocate, Sybil Brand. The Sybil Brand Institute, located in East Los Angeles, was innovative for its time and continues to be so, in contemporary times, as well.
Sheriff Villanueva began the conference with a reminder to continue practicing physical distancing protocols, then outlined the reflection of lowered percentages in crime statistics calculated during the COVID-19 quarantine, as compared to last year.
Because medical and public safety personnel often find themselves in positions and situations with a greater potential for exposure to COVID-19, Sheriff Villanueva collaborated with some of our county partners to create a decontamination center, from which they spoke. Captain Kovac recognized the need for such a place, in light of a world shortage of N95 masks and gowns, and counterfeit products. He questioned if it were possible to sanitize and reuse the personal protective equipment we already have. Research identified a process called Hydrogen Peroxide Vaporization, which could make cleaning and reuse of the equipment possible, and extend the life of our inventory, as well as our budget. “Innovation and fiscal responsibility,” said the Sheriff, is what we must practice.
The four-step cleaning process is conducted inside of a decontamination chamber the size of a small dishwasher. It dispenses a mist of vaporized hydrogen peroxide over the masks, eliminating 99.9% of all pathogens within a few hours, without removing any of its protective properties. A system of conditioning, gassing, dwell time, and aeration give new life to used personal protective equipment, with water and oxygen as its only byproducts.
The process was vetted by numerous studies, cited by the Centers for Disease Control, and is in motion within Los Angeles County now. It will take place around the clock and is expected to sanitize more than 30,000 masks per day. The LASD will manage the program with our stakeholders and county partners, allowing front line workers across the board to reuse the same N95 mask up to 20 times.
With prices for N95 masks fluctuating between $3.75 and $12.74 per piece, the economic impact of extending the value and life of our equipment, as opposed to additional purchasing, will certainly benefit all county agencies across the board, and ultimately save tens of millions of dollars. Decontamination costs pennies on the dollar, as opposed to the cost of continuously replenishing stock. For example, the cost of 250,000 masks at $3.75 per piece is $937,000; a $50,000 cost of putting them through 20 decontamination cycles makes their adjusted total purchase cost $987,5000. In an estimation of five million masks needed to get us through the pandemic, the savings on decontamination versus purchasing five million more new pieces would lead to a $17,762,000 savings. If the five million pieces went through 50 decontamination cycles, this would lead to a staggering $18,325,000 in savings.
The equipment used in the cleaning process was generously provided by the University of California-Los Angeles. Their dedication to helping others was articulated in a statement: “Just as others have supported UCLA’s front-line health care workers, UCLA is pleased to support the Sheriff’s Department in its important effort to establish a decontamination center for N95 masks used by first responders. UCLA is honored to make available hydrogen peroxide fogging equipment used to clean many of our research labs now idled for safety reasons because of the pandemic. We are all in this together, helping our community in a time of need. #TeamLA”
Sheriff Alex Villanueva said, “Our medical and public safety personnel place themselves in positions where the potential for catching COVID-19 is greater. It is our role as public safety leaders to do everything we can to provide our personnel with the equipment they need to do their jobs. This center will decontaminate masks around the clock. It is our expectation the center will decontaminate over 30,000 masks per day, ensuring first responders have access to what they need to protect others.”
The Sheriff also addressed the decrease of crime in the county. Violent crimes in general are down by 11%, criminal homicide by 24%, rape reporting by 33%, property crime by 9%, as well as calls for service. There were three COVID -19-related arrests and 41 citations issued since Sunday, March 29, 2020.
Personnel, of course, are also part of the communities we serve and reflect the numbers of those physically affected by the COVID-19 crisis. There were 167 sworn and 83 professional staff quarantined, 61 of whom tested positive for the affliction, and 754 who returned to work.
The inmate population is vulnerable to the daily movement and fluctuations within it, and it is under constant, protective supervision to preserve balance. The quarantine of inmates is still taking place, always on the side of caution. Whenever someone is identified as displaying symptoms, the entire dormitory is quarantined. This may cause numbers to fluctuate, however, it is conducted simply as a preventative measure. So far, 2,563 inmates were quarantined and 71 were isolated to prevent the perpetuation of disease further, among both population and staff. Of the 123 who tested positive, 31 are fully recovered.