August 6, 2021

OP-ED: How Nanotechnology Can Change Your Business and Your Covid Experience


Russel Hawkins, CEO of Nannochem, urges business leaders to change their mindset when thinking about Covid-19 in an open letter to the industry.

Dear Foodservice Professionals,

I write to you to address a very serious topic of concern as many businesses leaders in South Africa are still of the opinion that a person can contract Covid-19 by touching surfaces. Frankly, business leaders are not to blame but rather it is the media and every so-called expert that jumped to conclusions when the pandemic first emerged in 2019 in Wuhan China.

Fast forward to 2021 where many countries around the world are now rapidly revising their Covid-19 nonpharmaceutical guidelines to address the crisis in the realisation that Covid-19 is an airborne virus. This realisation was first published by The Lancet on the 14th of May 2021 which left world leaders in total disarray as to how they were going to digest this new information.  For 60 years, medical experts around the world, including the WHO and the CDC based their understanding of airborne transmission of pathogens on a study which claimed that particles greater than 5 microns in size could not remain suspended in the air.  Ten leading international scientists debunked this 60 years old theory and proved without a shadow of a doubt that particles of up to 100 microns in size can remain suspended in the air for long periods of time and travel long distances while being suspended in the air. This is besides the fact that the common influenza, Rhinovirus, TB and measles viruses to name a few are all airborne viruses. So why not SARS-CoV-2?

One month later, the WHO and the CDC revised their interpretation of how Covid-19 is transmitted. The CDC in fact listed airborne transmission as the primary route of transmission for contracting the virus on their website. Fast forward to July 2021 where many governments are now franticly scrambling to inform their citizens of the risks of contracting the virus in poorly ventilated or unventilated settings. This is primarily a result of the Delta variant which is reported to be twice as transmissible and over 1000 times more viral load than the original coronavirus strain which now explains why the virus is spreading at the rate it is around the world. This is regardless of the fact that people are donning masks, sanitizing their hands and surfaces as well as social distancing.

The problem is how do we change human behaviour overnight? Relaxing indoors when at home or socializing, engaging with colleges at work, meeting with clients or simply taking the family out for a pleasurable dinner have all become high risk practices. All these habits which come naturally to us are what is now putting you, your loved ones and work colleagues lives at risk with a virus that is now airborne and does not discriminate by age, gender or how healthy or unhealthy you are. Even though the USA has vaccinated half of its adult population it’s citizens are now facing another frantic wave of Covid-19 where it’s citizens are now being mandated to wear masks regardless of whether they have been vaccinated or not. This mandate is based on two factors. One is that the highly transmissible Delta variant is airborne which variant can be contracted within 15 seconds of walking into a room where an infected person was previously present up to three hours prior. The second being that a new peer review study from Germany now shows that a patient who contracted Covid-19 has little to no immunity until five weeks after their first dose of the vaccine and that a person who has never previously contracted the virus will only develop immunity 14 days after their second dose. The most recent revelation is that China, which has vaccinated most of its adult population, is now seeing an outbreak of the Delta variant in almost all its provinces.  This is despite the fact that the people living in these provinces have (mostly) previously been vaccinated.

People around the world are so ill-informed or have chosen to block out anything Covid-19 related, resulting in them choosing not to listen to the science. The CDC and the WHO both now state on their websites that surface transmission of Covid-19 is of very low risk, yet people continue to sanitise surfaces as though their lives depend on it. Science has confirmed that a person has a 1 in a 10,000 chance of contracting COVID-19 by touching surfaces. The only real possibility of contracting the virus from a surface is directly after an infected person has coughed or sneezed on a surface where droplets with a high viral load are then touched by a person and thereafter that person touches their nose, mouth or eyes directly afterwards. Even though there are fomites on the surface, the viral load is substantially lower than that of droplets which significantly reduces the possibility of contracting the virus by touching contaminated surfaces. Studies show that the possibility of contracting the virus from fomites is as low as 0,01% in relation to the 80% possibility of contracting the virus from COVID-19 aerosols that can remain airborne for up the 3 hours and can travel distances of up to 10 meters or further in poorly ventilated or unventilated settings.

Covid-19 is going to be with us for a very long time and if the numbers in South Africa as of the 28th of July 2021 are anything to go by, it is clear that the we are possibly looking at a resurgence of the 3rd wave.  What’s worse is this possible resurgence is soon going to be followed by the fourth wave in late October as predicted by the experts. The global pattern is obvious and that is that the world is going to have to live with Covid-19 until there is a silver bullet. Right now, the vaccines are a great big plaster over a gaping wound, however, it’s a plaster that is stopping the bleeding by preventing serious illness, hospitalisation and deaths.

As the CEO of Nannochem, even though I am vigilant about protecting myself and my family, I still landed up in hospital with Covid-19 after contracting the virus at my local pharmacy. I came very close to being wheeled into the ICU on an occasion, however by the grace of God I was one of the lucky ones to walk out of the hospital alive. Four other patients were not as lucky as me which will forever have a lasting effect on me. What became very apparent to me in the hospital was that I observed that our hospitals are at a breaking point and that our frontline workers are in a zombie-like state, numb to the bone from the COVID-19 deaths they are exposed to on a daily basis. My concern is that the machine that keeps our country’s health systems in check is on the tipping point of collapse as the strings that are holding our healthcare system together are soon possibly going to snap. I observed that our frontline workers have reached breaking point, after all, they are only human.

It’s now up to all of us to become more responsible and change our mindset about Covid-19 and understand that Covid-19 is not transmitted via surfaces but rather that it is an airborne virus that is spreading like wildfire and has the potential to become the great equalizer if we all don’t change our mindset and focus on air quality or decontaminating of the air in poorly ventilated or unventilated settings.

It is, for this reason, that my company Nannochem has spent a great deal of time focusing its attention on engineering a technology to add to the toolbox of tools we need to fight the airborne spread of Covid-19. Unlike the barrage of companies that conveniently label their disinfectants as air sanitisers, Nannochem has gone beyond the regulatory requirements to develop appropriate efficacy protocols to test HYDROMIST as it is intended to be used by its customers. Nannochem has had two efficacy protocols developed by ARMSCOR’s biological warfare laboratories and the University of the Free State to prove that HYDROMIST is the most advanced and effective airborne and surface decontamination aerosol technology available in South Africa and possibly in the world. Regardless of the fact that the main route of transmission for Covid-19 is through aerosols, ARMSCOR confirmed that HYDROMIST delivers 5 days long term efficacy on surfaces. The 5 long term efficacy is only limited by the build-up of dust particles on top of the previously protected surface which prevents the contaminants from coming in contact with a previously protected surface after 5 days. This long term efficacy plays a very important role in protecting the surface when an infected person coughs or sneezes thereby producing droplets that fall onto a surface. The University of the Free State tested the most important capability of HYDROMIST which was to prove that the air could be decontaminated against airborne pathogens such as envelope viruses which include SARS-CoV-2 that cause COVID-19. The airborne efficacy test conducted by the university proved that HYDROMIST delivered a 100% kill rate against airborne pathogens, all the while being nontoxic, food-safe and noncorrosive.

The HYDROMIST Mister which is based on the original HYDROMIST formula is intended for use on large surface areas between 60 and 120 square meters. In addition to the 5-day long term efficacy of the HYDROMIST Mister the air is decontaminated for approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes. An air normalization study conducted by ARMSCOR demonstrated that the air normalized by 60% after 20 minutes and totally normalized within 1 hour and 45 minutes after use. It is for this reason that it is recommended that the area is decontaminated and vacated for 20 minutes during the decontamination process. The HYDROMIST Mister contains nano silver, copper and titanium which individually all attack specific structures of the pathogens (i.e. the virus). The titanium is what provides the long term efficacy as when it is exposed to daylight (UVA light), it undergoes a photocatalytic reaction that produces ongoing hydrogen peroxide which is commonly used in hospitals as a very effective means to eradicate pathogens in hospital settings. Even though HYDROMIST Mister contains nano silver, the concentration level of the nano silver at 0,0044 mg/m3 is considerably below the permissible exposure limit recommended by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) at 0.01 mg/m3 for all forms of silver. The unique formulation of HYDROMIST Mister enables HYDROMIST Mister to use 200 times less concentration of nano silver, however delivers 100 fold greater efficacy at these lower concentrations.

In addition to the HYDROMIST Mister formulation, the University of the Free State also conducted the same airborne efficacy test on the HYDROMIST Timer Spray formula. This formula does not contain any nano silver and the titanium is replaced with nano tungsten. The two primary reasons for this modified formula are that the HYDROMIST Timer Spray is placed in an automatic aerosol dispenser.  A small amount of the formula is then sprayed every 15 minutes to decontaminate the air and surfaces. As there is no predicting where a person would install the aerosol dispenser, Nannochem had to make sure that the formulation was safe to inhale at all times even if the person placed the aerosol dispenser within one meter of where they are sitting or standing. The second reason was that as the HYDROMIST Timer Spray is intended for use in indoor poorly ventilated or unventilated spaces, the photocatalytic properties of the tungsten would produce hydrogen peroxide with AVA, AVB and visible light. Most office buildings without windows only produces visible light. The major difference between the HYDROMIST Mister and the HYDROMIST Timer Spray is that the HYDROMIST Mister is intended for large open indoor spaces up to 120 square meters, whereas the HYDROMIST Timer Spray is intended for smaller poorly ventilated or unventilated spaces of up to 20 square meters per automatic aerosol dispenser. The other primary difference is that the HYDROMIST Timer Spray decontaminates the air and surfaces for 24 hours a day for 30 days a month.

Below are some key points as to why we all need to understand the seriousness of this pandemic:

  • Covid-19 is an airborne virus.
  • Poorly or unventilated spaces are deemed very high risk for contracting Covid-19 through airborne transmission.
  • A person has a 1 in 10,000 chance of contracting Covid-19 from surfaces which translates to 0.01% of contracting Covid-19 from fomites on surfaces.
  • The viral load the Delta variant is roughly 1,000 times higher in people infected with the Delta variant than those infected with the original coronavirus strain.
  • The primary route of transmission of Covid-19 is from aerosols followed by droplets.
  • A person can contract the Delta variant within 15 seconds of walking into a poorly ventilated or unventilated space up to 3 hours after a person who is Covid-19 positive has previously been in that same space.
  • Covid-19 can remain airborne for up to 3 hours in poorly ventilated and unventilated spaces.
  • Covid-19 can travel distances of up 10 meters and more in poorly ventilated and unventilated spaces.
  • Conservatively, 40 to 50 percent of all people who contract Covid-19 contract it from an asymptomatic person who has Covid-19 and who is not coughing or sneezing but by talking.
  • 80% of all persons infected by the virus are infected as a result of Covid-19 aerosols.
  • Recovered Covid-19 patients who have had the Beta or Delta variant have little to no immunity until 14 days after their first shot of the vaccine.
  • A person who has not had the Covid virus is required to have both shots and will only develop immunity 14 days after their second shot of the vaccine (seven weeks after their first shot).
  • CDC – Unvaccinated people are more than 10 times more likely to than those who are vaccinated to become seriously ill or die.

Based on science, here are five important steps to protect yourself against Covid-19 until you have developed immunity from the vaccine:

  1. Boost your immune system by supplementing with vitamins.
  2. Sanitise your hands regularly.
  3. Double mask whenever indoors.
  4. Open at least a window on either side of the room, if possible, to improve air exchange in the room or use HYDROMIST to decontaminate the air where ventilation is not possible.
  5. As recommended by governments worldwide, get vaccinated as soon as possible.

In closing, my hope is that you find this letter insightful and that you will take to heart the seriousness of the facts presented in this letter, in particular, that we all need to become more responsible, change our mindset to accepting the fact that Covid-19 is an airborne virus and as leaders of business we to need to use the tools at our disposal to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our work colleges against the airborne spread of Covid-19.

Please feel free to take the opportunity to reach out to me should you have any further questions or if you wish to invite me to present to your management team on why we all need to change our mindset now before Covid-19 is allowed to become the great equalizer.

Yours sincerely,

Russel Hawkins, CEO of Nannochem


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