Schools need better air quality to limit COVID-19

OneAcross the country, K-12 schools are starting their next classes amid a COVID-19 spike. Like B.5 Sub-Major Omicron prompting thousands of reassessments, schools have largely ignored safety measures such as mask wearing and physical distancing requirements.

In response, some parents and professionals are trying to improve ventilation in schools, as better air quality in buildings can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and even improve other health outcomes. However, despite available resources — including millions of dollars in funding from the federal government — many schools have failed to invest in upgrading their air quality.

Dr Catherine Rasberry, a scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of School and Adolescent Health, said: “We know that ventilation is important to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Ventilation is emphasized throughout CDC guide to safe live learning during the pandemic. Improving it can reduce school outbreaks and the disruption they cause to families, as well as reduce the risk of MIS-C and COVID persists in children—Two long-term conditions can result from COVID-19 infection.

Read more: What to do if your child gets COVID-19 between shots

Having good indoor air quality is also associated with a variety of other student health indicators unrelated to COVID-19. “Decades of scientific research show that when you improve indoor air quality, you improve your health,” says Joseph Allen, an air quality expert at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health. student health, student thinking, and student performance. Improvements range from fewer asthma attacks and allergy symptoms to higher scores on reading comprehension tests, he said.

What does good air quality mean?

Tony Colaneri, a parent in the Chicago suburb of Evanston who has campaigned for better ventilation in his child’s school, compares cutting the spread of COVID-19 to reducing cigarette smoke. “Imagine that someone is smoking on the other side of the room,” he said. To cope, you can open a window, run a fan and place a portable air filter next to the smoker; Similar measures can remove the coronavirus from the air.

Allen and other experts recommend that classroom ventilation meet the threshold of six air changes per hour, meaning fresh, clean air circulates in the room every ten minutes. Although the CDC does not provide guidance for this metric, Some states have recommendations ranges from two to six air changes per hour.

“Really, you want to aim for 12 air changes per hour,” said Devabhaktuni Srikrishna, a San Francisco school parent and infectious disease researcher who runs the website. Patient knowledge, compiles recommendations on high-quality masks, ventilation systems, and other COVID-related topics. “That’s the number that’s been used in hospitals for airborne isolation wards for the past 20 or 30 years.”

To improve their air change rates, schools can use low-cost options, like opening windows and adding portable air filters. They may also upgrade or replace HVAC systems — a strategy that costs more, but one that may be more valuable in the long run, Allen said. These and other measures outlined in a July report by Allen and other members of Lancet COVID-19 Commission Task Forcean interdisciplinary team of experts collaborating to research solutions to the pandemic.

Read more: Things to know about long-term COVID in children

Students can even build their own portable air cleaner. A popular pattern, Corsi-Rosenthal Hộp Box, which can be built for under $100. Krystall Pollitt, an epidemiologist and environmental health expert at Yale University, says these homemade canisters can work just as well as expensive air purifiers. Engineers at 3M, the company that makes the filters commonly used for these boxes, verified that the design works.

But first, students and teachers may need to convince school administrators that poor air quality is a problem. Last spring, three high school students at the Franklin Learning Center, a public school in Philadelphia, studied their school’s air quality for a senior project. Using air monitors, they noticed “remarkably high levels of carbon dioxide and humidity in the classrooms,” said Cianni Craig, one of the students. These levels indicate poor air quality and ventilation, increasing the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and other possible health problems that “impede student learning,” she said.

After Craig and her classmates shared their findings at a school board meeting, school leaders refuted their data, questioning whether their DIY methods effective, said Jessica Way, a teacher at the Franklin Learning Center who worked with students on their project. But the students didn’t give up: they submitted their work to the Philadelphia teachers union, local politicians and journalists. Finally, the district’s environmental office replicated the students’ research, confirming that their school’s ventilation system needed a serious upgrade.

Why schools struggle with cleaner air

Major federal funding available to schools to improve their air quality, thanks to the US Rescue Plan. But many schools haven’t made resource-intensive upgrades, according to one June report from CDC.

In a nationwide survey of 420 public schools, the majority said they used cheaper strategies like opening windows and moving operations outside. Only 39% said they had replaced or upgraded their school’s HVAC system, and 28% said they used portable air filters. Rasberry, the study’s lead author, said the CDC is working to make federal resources more widely available for costly upgrades.

School leaders need to learn more about air quality issues to understand their importance, experts say. Even if an administrator realizes the value of better ventilation, they may need to hire an HVAC professional to inspect existing building systems, then review that expert’s recommendations. and evaluate potential upgrades — all of which may “beyond their area of ​​expertise,” says Pollitt. For example, an administrator might be attracted to expensive air filters, even if DIY boxes might perform better while being much less expensive.

Schools may also face bureaucratic challenges in accessing funding or working through regulations. In Philadelphia, for example, federal funds for better ventilation are controlled by “the highly conservative state legislature,” says David Backer, an expert on school finance at West Chester University. know. “About a billion dollars sitting in a pot; they just don’t want to spend it. “

Some administrators may even hesitate to use portable air filters purchased or manufactured by local parents because they have not been formally approved in advance by the district’s financial office. And when there are portable filters, teachers must be taught to use them correctly. For example, an air filter turned on on a low setting in a corner of a classroom, may not perform well.

What can parents do?

Parents interested in improving their school’s ventilation system can learn more from publicly available resources, such as this brochure. flow diagram from Pollitt and colleagues at Yale and Srikrishna’s DIY air filter tutorial. They can also join growing community of the parents, teacherand ventilation Experts on Twitter. Experts are often willing to share information and answer questions.

Campaigns for better air quality in schools can take months. Sometimes, in the face of administrators’ inaction, the school community will solve the problem on its own by making a DIY air filter. In Philadelphia, the project of high school students and other school air monitoring efforts sparked a flurry of events to build these filters and a social media push to publicize the project, led by the local Democratic Society of America.

“Don’t let anyone stop you from voicing your findings,” says Craig, who wants his project to become an inspiration for parents, teachers and other students to campaign for quality air. better atmosphere in school. “Continue to use your voice to create a safe environment for students to learn.”

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