For the first time in decades, the need to protect people against airborne illnesses has become an urgent topic of conversation across the globe. This is particularly true for young students who are only recently eligible for the vaccine and are often gathered in small classrooms, exercising together in gym class, or eating without masks in crowded lunchrooms. The COVID-19 pandemic thrust a sense of urgency for school districts to adopt new indoor air quality (IAQ) management protocols at a time when there was great confusion about the virus.
Today, much more is known about the transmission of the SARS CoV-2 virus and there are scientifically proven solutions to mitigate its spread — technology that is changing how schools combat the virus. Not all technologies are created equal, though.
As the pandemic continues to impact our education system, school administrators across the country must take enhanced measures to improve IAQ in school buildings, many of which have poor ventilation and feature older, outdated HVAC systems, resulting in increased absenteeism and negative learning outcomes. In fact, as of mid-November, nearly 6.8 million children have tested positive for the SARS CoV-2 virus since the onset of the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
So, what are the readily available technologies school districts should consider adopting in an effort to protect students and staff in the classroom, particularly in light of the flexible funds available through the American Rescue Plan to cover the cost of these services?
Below are a few recommended ways to incorporate IAQ improvements to protect the health of students and teachers.
UVGI, also known as ultraviolet germicidal irradiation, is a scientifically proven approach to disinfection, enhancing IAQ, and keeping students safe from COVID-19 and other airborne respiratory illnesses. This approach uses UVC germicidal emitters to target the DNA or RNA of microorganisms, destroying them and making replication impossible. The technology is installed in existing or new HVAC systems, disinfecting the air and keeping the HVAC system clean so that it doesn’t become a breeding ground for pollutants, pathogens and other toxins.
Recently, Twin Cities International School opted to use this technology to improve IAQ and bring students and teachers back with the peace of mind they would be safe inside the building. With more than 1,000 students and approximately 150 teachers and staff, the school partnered with Steril-Aire, a leader in the development of this technology, to install UVC emitters in their rooftop HVAC units. Since then, their COVID-19 positivity rate has remained at or below 1%, which is drastically lower than the surrounding Minneapolis community.
Additionally, a California preschool that adopted the technology saw a 50% decrease in teacher absenteeism and a 25% decrease in student absences, leading to improved overall performances.
HEPA Air Filtration Systems
Another proven, incremental solution is the use of high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems, which can be installed in each classroom as well as school nurses’ offices and other smaller spaces like bathrooms. Noted by the CDC as effective vehicles for improving IAQ in schools, these systems predictably filter the air from pathogens like viruses, mold and bacteria as well as remove harmful particulates like smoke and other airborne particles.
While some HEPA systems sit on the floor of classrooms and other public spaces, the Steril-Aire Ceiling HEPA Pro+ system is installed in the ceilings of classrooms and office spaces to reduce noise and trip hazards. With a 99.97% effectiveness rate, the system can help schools take a layered approach at combatting the spread of viruses and other contaminants.
Talk to Your School Board or District Administrators about Improving IAQ
While there is a lot of misinformation about what’s best for school buildings and your child’s learning environment, UVGI and HEPA technologies are proven to safely and effectively improve indoor air quality.
A recent Johns Hopkins study concluded that making these improvements should be a top priority for schools and is a cost-effective measure. You can speak with your school board representative or local school administrators to see how they are implementing IAQ measures to keep the air within your child’s school building healthy, safe and clean.
Want to learn more about how your school can improve their ventilation and indoor air quality? Visit here to get more information.