WASHINGTON (WJZ) — Since March, scientists working at the Department of Homeland Security’s Biodefense Research Laboratory said a directive from senior agency officials was unprecedented.

They were told to “drop everything and focus on one thing, the coronavirus,” Senior Scientist, Paul Dabisch, told WJZ Thursday.

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He is one of the scientists who works at the lab, officially called the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasure Center – or NBACC.


“We’ve been working seven days a week, probably close to 15 hours a day,” Dabisch added.

But unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.

The lab was first developed by the Department of Homeland Security to help combat against deadly agents, like Anthrax or Ebola.

Now, they’re being called to crack the COVID-19 case.

“The pressure has been essentially nonstop since March,” Dabisch described. “We have not worked with an agent that has shut the country down before.”

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They’re trying to understand how COVID-19 spreads and infects so easily.

“How long it lasts on surfaces and how long it lasts in the air,” he said.

But they have one very special tool to find out. An aerosol chamber, the only one in the country. With it, researchers are able to recreate the sunlight, heat and humidity levels for any climate in the country.

It’s allowed them to find that sunlight kills COVID-19, and quickly.

A finding that Dabisch said can help people to make more informed decisions, like at the grocery store with shopping carts.

“Our data suggests that the lower risk is to grab the one that has been out in the sun because there is less likely to be an infectious virus on that cart,” Dabisch told WJZ.

They’ve even taken their findings and built an online tool where a user can add the humidity levels and temperature where you’re at to see how long COVID-19 lasts on various surfaces.

To use the tool, head to this website.

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For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department’s website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ’s coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.

Annie Rose Ramos