BY MORGAN LEGEL
Aura Air, a smart air purifier, is being installed and tested in the first restaurants on island, in support of the re-opening of dine-in service in Guam.
Subway Restaurants and Chili’s Grill & Bar have implemented Aura Air, which is being sold by Docomo Pacific.
These would be the first locations on Guam to turn to air-purifiers in the restaurant world, even though hospitals and clinics have already installed Aura Air.
“I have been using the Aura Air filter for a couple of months now,” said Dr. Geoffrey Galgo, medical director, Guam Medical Care, at a Nov. 17 press conference. “Different from common [high-efficiency particulate air] filters on the market, the Aura Air uses both UV-C light and two patented technologies to kill bacteria and viruses, including COVID-19.”
The filter has also been trialed at the Sheba Medical Center in Israel, Aura Air said that it is the only filter product that has been tested for its effectiveness in removing COVID-19.
With this, NAKICOS Corp., which does business as Subway and Chili’s, has partnered with Docomo and Aura Air to create a pilot program in the two restaurants.
The purifiers, which were installed on Dec. 15, monitored the current air quality in the restaurant for two weeks. Now, the devices are turned on, and those results will be monitored as well.
Marcos Fong, managing director of NAKICOS Corp., told the Journal, “We’re pretty confident we will see some results; what I’m looking at is the magnitude of those results. Looking at the air quality, without the purifiers on, the air quality is pretty good. But, remember, right now we have limited capacity — there’s no dine-in, so there’s no one going in and out of the restaurants, it’s just team members and guests walking through.”
Dine-in was announced in Guam on Dec. 26, to 25% of occupancy, with no more than six persons per table, per party.
In order to work properly, the small air-purifying devices have to be placed about 500 to 600 square feet apart.
“We tried to maximize them throughout the restaurant in spaces where they’re non-intrusive but also have good air flow,” Fong said. “That’s why we have to strategically place these units — they have to cover a certain amount of space. Beyond that, then they’re not effective.”
According to Dee Perez-Damian, vice president of brand for Docomo, the price per unit is $22.88 per month, or $549 if bought outright.
Perez-Damian approached Fong towards the beginning of December, and together the pair got the ball rolling quickly.
Fong decided to use both Subway and Chili’s in the pilot program because they serve different purposes and will return different data. Subway is a quick-service restaurant, where customers generally spend less than a half hour, whereas Chili’s is dine-in and family-friendly, with customers sometimes staying up to an hour.
To further get well-rounded results, Fong also decided to put Aura Air into the Subway locations in Saipan the weekend of Dec. 18.
“We wanted to do it in Saipan for two reasons: one, Saipan has a lot less cases of the Coronavirus, so they’ve got dine-in happening right now with a lot more activity; and two, we wanted to extend the pilot test, and be able to show the effects in that community.”
The smart part of the purifier is that while the device is monitoring results, the results are displayed on a personalized application for your smartphone.
“This real time monitoring allows us to respond quickly to keep everyone in our environment safe,” Galgo said.
According to Aura Air, the device not only helps air quality, but energy efficiency as well, giving air conditioning operation guidelines depending on the number of people in the room.
Paul Packbier, founder, president and co-owner PCR Environmental Inc., an environmental consulting company, said that implementing the purifiers in the restaurants is an interesting and promising idea.
“My first reaction to the purifiers is, ‘Oh, that’s good, I might be interested in putting one up to monitor it and see how it works,’” he said.
“Anything helps,” Packbier said. “When it comes to exposure to viri, it’s always based on concentration; there’s no 100% safe solution on anything. But you’re reducing the chance of those viri particles getting to you. Just by putting a simple filter with high efficiency filtration, you can reduce risk by 95%. Add UV light, and it could be 99%. You’re definitely improving air quality and reducing risk based on that.”
Fong said safety is paramount, for both guests and employees, no matter the cost.
“From the very beginning,” he said, “We were always looking for ways to mitigate some of the risks involved right now. We, of course, went through standard cleaning and protocols. But COVID-19 really prompted us to be more mindful. We’re always looking for ways to be more safe; it’s top of mind in every situation.
“I’m hoping this will further bring down any risk and give people that peace-of-mind to dine-in again,” he said.
“From a safety and peace-of-mind standpoint, I think it’s well worth the cost,” Fong said.
Editor’s Note: Subway Restaurants and Chili’s Grill & Bar have common ownership with Glimpses of Guam, which publishes the Journal. mbj