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Covid update: 25 February 2021

25 Feb 2021

A round up of this week's coronavirus-related news and countermeasures from the photonics industry.

Solar-powered refrigerators could be a game-changer in Africa’s fight against Covid-19 by helping the continent to store and distribute vaccines, especially in rural and remote areas with no connection to electricity.

As the world is rolling out mass vaccinations against Covid-19, experts from the Global Environment Facility-funded Sure Chill vaccine storage project in Colombia, Eswatini and Kenya add that equipping health facilities not connected to the national grid with solar-powered refrigerators could be key to reaching rural populations.

“We are now faced with the challenge of expanding the cold chain to health facilities especially in the rural areas as we prepare for mass vaccinations,” said Nancy Finger, a senior project consultant at Germany-headquartered HEAT, an international energy consulting firm working on the Sure Chill vaccine storage project.

In an interview with SciDev.Net, Finger explained that in many parts of rural Africa, many health facilities are limited in their ability to deliver quality health services, partly due to a lack of appropriate, affordable and accessible energy services.

The existing cold chains in Africa may not be sufficient for mass vaccinations against Covid-19, she added. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), every year, more than 50 per cent of vaccines are wasted globally because of poor temperature management.

Rose Katee, a nursing officer at Mulango dispensary, a private facility located in the outskirts of Kitui town, eastern Kenya, said that solar refrigerators are ideal in areas prone to frequent electric power losses.

“Three years ago, this area was plunged into total disarray as we went for seven good months without electricity,” said Katee. “The situation was so devastating that we wished we could have our usual intermittent supply of power because we could not help our patients.”

The biggest challenge for the health centre was how to store life-saving vaccines, especially for children in the facility catchment area. The situation, recalled Katee, led to many children missing out on vaccines. In 2017, the facility received solar-powered refrigerators from the Sure Chill project that Katee said have been instrumental in storing vaccines at the required temperatures.

“In the past few months, public health facilities have been paralysed by strikes of doctors and nurses. Our facility has been of great help especially to children: vaccinating them against deadly diseases such as measles.”

About 30 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines are expected to arrive in African countries by March, 2021, according to Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, in a media briefing.

University of Bath engineers join the fight against Covid-19

Designs for a low-cost, 3D-printed blood-oxygen sensor have been shared by University of Bath engineers to help in the fight against Covid-19.

The do-it-yourself “Open Oximeter” sensor, designed by a team of engineers and scientists can be created with a 3D printer and basic electronics skills. Costing less than £10 ($14) it will accurately monitor a person’s blood-oxygen levels – a key symptom of Covid-19.

Based on existing commercial sensors, the oximeter is worn on a finger clip and measures the reflection of different wavelengths of light, tracking the wearer’s heart rate and saturated percentage of oxygen (SpO2).

The design, which comprises a sensor, readout electronics and software, has been published in the Journal of Open Hardware. The design files have been shared on GitLab.

It was created in response to the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, during which staff from the University’s Faculty of Engineering and Design produced over 200,000 items of PPE for local healthcare workers, while a further 200,000 items were produced to their designs by local companies.

Dr. Pejman Iravani, a Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, said, “This project started as a response to a potential shortage of pulse oximeters, given the large numbers of patients all requiring oxygen saturation measurements.”

Professor Peter Wilson, from Bath’s Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, added, “Monitoring blood-oxygen saturation has become a key part of patient care during the pandemic with a particular focus on early-warning of serious illness, so demand for pulse oximeters around the world is huge. We hope that by sharing this open-source design, healthcare providers will be able to quickly produce more sensors at a reasonable cost.”

‘Just speaking while infected can spread Covid-19’

Covid-19 can spread from asymptomatic but infected people through small aerosol droplets in their exhaled breath. Most studies of the flow of exhaled air have focused on coughing or sneezing; however, even speaking while near one another is shown to be also risky. Now Japanese researchers from Yamano College of Aesthetics and Aoyama Gakuin University have demonstrated that ordinary talking can infect nearby others in certain circumstances.

The scientists have reported on the use of smoke and laser light to study the flow of expelled breath near and around two people conversing in various relative postures commonly found in the service industry, such as in hair salons, medical exam rooms, or long-term care facilities.

The article Relationship between human exhalation diffusion and posture in face-to-face scenario with utterance is authored by Keiko Ishii, Yoshiko Ohno, Maiko Oikawa, and Noriko Onishi. The article is published in Physics of Fluids.

In this study, electronic cigarettes were used to produce artificial smoke consisting of droplets about one-tenth micron in diameter, similar to the size of a virus particle. The liquid used in these vaping devices, a mixture of glycerin and propylene glycol, produces a cloud of tiny droplets that scatter light from a laser, allowing visualization of airflow patterns.

“We analyzed the characteristics of exhalation diffusion with and without a mask when a person was standing, sitting, facing down, or lying face up,” said author Keiko Ishii. To study the effect of speech on exhalation, the word “onegaishimasu”, a typical Japanese greeting in a business setting, was uttered repeatedly while filming the resulting vapor cloud.

The experiments were carried out in a hair salon at the Yamano College of Aesthetics in Tokyo, with postures chosen to simulate typical customer service scenarios, including shampooing where a customer is lying back and the technician is standing and leaning over the customer. “A significant amount of similar face-to-face contact would occur not only in cosmetology but also in long-term and medical care,” said Ishii.

The experiments revealed the exhaled air from an unmasked person who is speaking tends to move downward under the influence of gravity. If a customer or patient is lying below, they could be infected.

When a mask is worn while standing or sitting, the vapor cloud tends to attach to that person’s body, which is warmer than the surrounding air and flows upward along the body. If the technician is leaning over, however, the aerosol cloud tends to detach from that person’s body and fall onto the client below.

The investigators also experimented with face shields and found it can prevent any aerosols that leak from around the technician’s mask from traveling down to the customer. “The face shield promoted the rise of the exhaled breath. Hence, it is more effective to wear both a mask and a face shield when providing services to customers,” said Ishii.

Schott eyes U.S. growth strategy as sales and earnings rise

Specialty glass group Schott increased its global sales by 2.2% in 2020 to reach $2.5 billion, and the company delivered positive performance for other key financial benchmarks despite the Covid-19 pandemic. The company also improved operating profit, reporting $320 million. The number of employees rose to around 16,500, of which about 1,200 are in the United States.

About 20% of global sales were attributable to the U.S. region, making the U.S. the top selling country for Schott.

U.S. sales increased despite the challenges of 2020, led by the company’s pharmaceutical packaging unit and its home appliance unit. The home appliance market dipped at the beginning of the pandemic, but rebounded as Americans spending more time at home invested in their living environments.

Schott’s Lebanon, Pa, facility produced record-breaking numbers of pharmaceutical containers, operating 24 hours per day, seven days a week, in response to heightened demand from the global coronavirus pandemic. Globally, three out of four Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers rely on vials from Schott’s Pharma business line.

“The pandemic brought into focus the essential role Schott plays in the world. Our products are vital for the supply chains for pharmaceuticals, MedTech, and other critical industries,” said Jim Gareau, President of Schott North America.

“As the seriousness of Covid-19 became apparent in early 2020, all of Schott’s U.S. facilities quickly instituted safety and hygiene plans to keep production running. I want to thank each and every Schott employee for their hard work in the face of an unquestionably difficult environment.”

ISUZU GLASS, INC.Diverse Optics Inc.BRD Optical Co., LtdJENOPTIK Light & OpticsLightPath TechnologiesHÜBNER PhotonicsEKSMA Optics
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