Miami Herald | by Alex Daugherty | August 26, 2020
A press release pitching a “catch and kill” air filtration system to help schools reduce COVID-19 infection risk quoted Sen. Marco Rubio praising the technology and said the Republican lawmaker would be on hand to celebrate the system’s installation Thursday at True North Classical Academy, a charter school one of his children attends.
But Rubio’s office said Thursday he won’t attend the event at the school. And the sitting senator isn’t endorsing the product, Rubio spokesperson Nick Iacovella said in an email: “Senator Rubio cannot comment on any specific product, but he strongly supports schools using new technologies, strategies, and routines to help them reopen safely.”
The CEO of the company that makes the air filter, Integrated Viral Protection, is Monzer Hourani, an inventor and major GOP donor who also leads a Houston-based medical real estate development firm. Hourani has contributed more than $25,000 to Rubio’s U.S. Senate and presidential campaigns along with his associated political action committee since 2015.
The press release Wednesday sent by a Texas-based PR company to journalists in Miami quotes Rubio as saying, “This new generation of air filtration system is an example of the kinds of new technologies we need to be thinking about in order to get our schools open safely.” It announced that the Miami school would be the second in the country to receive the “new & innovative air filtration system that’s specifically designed to catch & kill airborne COVID-19” and offered reporters an opportunity to speak with Rubio about the new technology.
“If you’d like further comment from Senator Rubio…please let me know,” the release said. “Senator Rubio and key spokespersons for the technology will [be] at the school and available for comment.”
Rubio’s office said the senator did tell True North Classical Academy, a charter high school in Miami, about the technology in his role as a parent.
“As a parent, Senator Rubio made his son’s school aware of various safety measures, including this new FDA approved technology,” Iacovella said.
Dr. Garrett Peel, IVP’s founding partner, said in an interview on Wednesday from the school that IVP reached out to True North Classical Academy because “they were planning to start on time.”
“We wanted to offer the technology to a charter or public school that was going to attempt to get their kids back quickly,” Peel said. “This is the second school in the country and first school in Florida.”
Peel said the first school in the country to use IVP’s filtration system, Slidell Independent School District in rural North Texas, used federal money from the CARES Act — a massive $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill — to pay for it.
True North Classical Academy, an independent charter school, did not immediately respond when asked how it paid for the filtration system. Former Republican state Rep. Michael Bileca, who runs a foundation that grants money to True North Classical Academy, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Peel said True North Classical Academy was an ideal venue for the new filtration system because the school is in a new building with a new HVAC system that will help IVP collect data. The filtration system was developed by researchers at the University of Houston and uses a network of filters to rapidly heat the air that flows inside the filter to a temperature that kills the virus responsible for COVID-19.
“It’s a way for us to work with a school that was in the middle of a hot zone,” Peel said.
The system is also in place at the Houston Convention Center and Peel said the state of Texas has ordered filters.
Peel said Rubio did not play a role in his son’s charter school obtaining the filtration system.
“I don’t even think he’s endorsing the product,” Peel said. “I think that Senator Rubio cares about promoting new technologies and getting schools open quickly.”
When asked if IVP chose True North Classical Academy because of Rubio’s relationship with the school, Peel said it wasn’t a factor.
“I frankly don’t know what students go there,” Peel said.