Question: What are three tools for fighting the spread of COVID-19?

Answer: Social distancing, masks and ceiling panels.

Wait. What?

It’s true. Armstrong World Industries, the nation’s largest manufacturer of ceilings, has developed new tools for fighting the spread of COVID-19.

Created at Armstrong’s Columbia Avenue research center and produced at its Marietta plant, the company is rolling out ceiling panels that self-seal into the ceiling grid. Armstrong also is offering an in-ceiling ultraviolet air purification system, produced in collaboration with another firm.

“We’re adapting technology used in health care facilities – where health and wellness matter most – to provide affordable and effective options for offices, schools and other spaces,” said Vic Grizzle, Armstrong president and CEO, in a prepared statement.

The products, unveiled Tuesday, are part of Armstrong’s new 24/7 Defend portfolio, which is designed to protect the health of a commercial or institutional building’s occupants.

“These Armstrong solutions can help everyone get back to life and work with greater confidence,” Grizzle said.

The self-sealing ceiling panels, dubbed AirAssure, use gaskets to form a tight seal and reduce airflow leaks up to four times better than regular panels, according to Armstrong. Reducing air leaks can significantly improve the effectiveness of ventilation and filtration systems, thereby lowering the risk of pathogen transfer.

In the second initiative, Armstrong is partnering with Medical Illumination International, based in San Fernando, California, to offer a customized version of Medical Illumination’s VidaShield UV24 air purification system that fits with AirAssure and other Armstrong ceiling panels.

The Armstrong version, which measures 2 feet by 4 feet, draws air into a hidden chamber above the ceiling, exposes the air to UV light and returns the cleaned air to the room below. The UV light neutralizes 97% of infectious pathogens in aerosols on the first pass of air, Armstrong said.

The AirAssure panels and VidaShieldUV24 for Armstrong ceilings will be available in early December. The 24/7 Defend portfolio also includes Infusions Resilient partitions and CleanAssure disinfectable ceilings, grid and trim.

Charlie Chiappone, Armstrong’s senior vice president for ceiling and wall solutions, said the firm intends to grow its portfolio of “healthy space solutions” by drawing on its experience with materials science, engineering and sustainability, its skill at innovating and its collaborations.

Armstrong is broadening its product line another way too -- acquiring firms that offer items it doesn’t. Since spinning off its flooring division in 2016, Armstrong has spent tens of millions of dollars to purchase seven small, specialty manufacturers.

Most recently, it bought Moz Designs of Oakland, Calif., which uses aluminum as its raw material, in August for $4.2 million (plus up to $4.7 million more in 2022, depending on Moz’s fiscal performance), and Turf Design of Chicago, which uses recycled plastic bottles as its raw material, in July for $70.0 million (plus up to $48.0 million more in 2022 and 2023).

Armstrong had disclosed the transactions at the time but not the prices. The sums were disclosed Tuesday in its quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

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