ST. GEORGE — As the nation continues to grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, Dixie State University and several companies linked to the institution’s Atwood Innovation Plaza are helping Utah communities respond to the pandemic.
According to a press release from DSU, the St. George-based startup company Steribin, which launched from Atwood Innovation Plaza and continues to lease space from Southern Utah’s hub for innovation and entrepreneurism, is partnering with the city of St. George to disinfect the personal protective equipment used by many of the city’s employees and first responders.
The company’s patent-pending device was originally developed to reduce the spread of bacteria and viruses in airports by sanitizing security bins in seconds; however, with the spread of COVID-19, the company is using its high-intensity pulse-lighting device to set up a mobile workstation in St. George.
“Our device can play an integral part in reducing the spread of viruses and bacteria at airports worldwide, and we’re grateful to be able to use it to help our local community during this time of need,” Jon Cole, CEO of Steribin, said in the DSU press release.
Another Atwood Innovation Plaza company, Soft Cell Biological Research, a public-private partnership based in the plaza, is collecting COVID-19 samples at their testing facility located at 4616 Beehive Drive in St. George.
Soft Cell, which offers saliva or nasal swab testing with 24-hour turnaround and reporting for $75, can process 2,500 tests per day and expects to be able to process 15,000 tests per day by June. Additionally, the company offers remote testing for at least 10 individuals for $100 a test and they do accept insurance.
“Antibody testing alone for COVID-19 is a coin flip at best, according to the most recent studies,” Brent Hunt, CEO and founder of Soft Cell, said. “Genetically based testing is the only true method currently available that can determine if the virus is still active within one’s body – and this is what we do.”
Dixie State’s academic departments are also contributing to the relief efforts. Engineering department Chair David Christensen and his student-interns are 3D printing ventilator splitters so health care facilities can use one ventilator on multiple patients at a time, if necessary. Additionally, the team is creating face shields that can be attached to HEPA filters for health care facilities around the state.
The effort is taking advantage of the department’s 24 3D printers that engineering students start using on their first day of coursework. The Dixie State engineering department, which offers bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer engineering, includes active learning courses that provide design experiences every year of the program and reinforce student learning with lab courses every semester.
Additionally, Dixie State’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology has teamed up with the university’s American Medical Women’s Association and Dixie Pre-Medical Alliance to offer elementary students the opportunity to participate in STEM learning from home.
As part of this effort, Dixie State premedical students created science videos on topics ranging from hand washing to DNA and microscopy and posted them online. The students are assembling materials necessary to participate in the activities demonstrated in the videos and giving them to elementary students at Title I schools in Washington County in coordination with meal distributions.
“Thanks to Dixie State University, the amazing professors and staff, and also to my fellow premedical students, we have been able to continue bringing fun science projects to kids who want to do them,” Jessikah Johnson, a premedical student at Dixie State, said. “Even a global pandemic can’t stop us from spreading our love of science to the world.”