The city of Mitchell is taking another approach to combat the spread of COVID-19 with a pathogen-reducing air purification system.

The city recently installed what is known as a “modular needlepoint bipolar ionization air purification system” inside a handful of city facilities. The company that manufactures the air purifiers, Global Plasma Solutions, claims the product purifies indoor air by reducing airborne particulates, odors and pathogens.

“This will put a plasma generating system to purify air in nearly every city building,” said Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson during the Sept. 8 council meeting. “It (catches) the air droplets so it doesn’t get in your respiratory system.”

Among the city facilities that the air purification units will be installed at include the Department of Public Safety building, City Hall, James Valley Community Center, Mitchell Public Library, Mitchell Recreation Center, the Corn Palace, Mitchell Activities Center and the Indoor Aquatic Center. The total cost of the air purification systems, including installation fees, came out to $200,000, which will be funded through the city's allocation of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money.

The Mitchell City Council unanimously approved to have the air purification systems installed inside city facilities during the Sept. 8 meeting.

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The idea to treat the air with innovative purification systems stemmed from a discussion between Corn Palace Director Doug Greenway and his former college professor at Dakota Wesleyan University, Dave Mitchell.

With the large crowds that the Corn Palace welcomes for sporting and entertainment events, Greenway said he liked the idea to install an air purification system that could reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“I talked to Dave (Mitchell) in April out of the blue, which was early on in the pandemic, and he said ‘we should treat the air if this virus is going to be airborne.’ I thought it was very interesting and realized it could help the Corn Palace,” Greenway said. “Since the mayor (Everson) has experience with these, he already had a lot of knowledge about them.”

Everson, who is an engineer by trade, said he is familiar with the type of air purification systems that the city installed. Prior to the pandemic, Everson said he’s been a part of projects with several colleges in the state that have installed similar air purifiers to their HVAC systems on campus such as Northern State University. In addition, Everson noted health care facilities have also installed similar purification systems to reduce airborne particulates and pathogens.

While Everson is aware that the newly-installed air purification systems can’t completely eliminate the airborne droplets of COVID-19, he is confident that the product will reduce the particulates known to spread the virus.

The purification units utilize a “needlepoint bipolar ionization” that generates a high-voltage field to create positive and negative ions, which travel through the air and target contaminants in the “air field,” Global Plasma Solutions said.

Greenway said several city officials working alongside him in City Hall have noticed their breathing has improved since the air purifiers were installed roughly three weeks ago.

“While you can’t see them since they are installed inside the ductwork, I have heard some staff say they’ve noticed better breathing,” Greenway said. “Knowing that the air inside of buildings is recycled, these types of purifiers can only help clean the air.”

Inside the Corn Palace, Greenway said there are a total of six purifiers installed in the HVAC system.

Considering the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed coronavirus can be transmitted to others through the air, mask-wearing has been strongly encouraged by many health experts. While the city doesn’t have a mask mandate as of now, installing the air purifiers represents another measure that the city has implemented to combat COVID-19.

As Davison County has been experiencing its biggest coronavirus surge over the past month since the start of the pandemic, with more than 800 active cases reported, as of Monday, Greenway hopes the air purifiers can chip away at reducing the spread.

“We know this isn’t a cure all, but it is one way we can try to reduce the spread,” Greenway said. “Every little bit of preventative measures help.”