School Ventilation: A Vital Tool to Reduce COVID-19 Spread

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School Ventilation: A Vital Tool to Reduce COVID-19 Spread

School Ventilation: A Vital Tool to Reduce COVID-19 Spread

Ventilation improvements in K-12 schools are a cost-effective public health measure, according to a recent study from Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, “School Ventilation: A Vital Tool to Reduce COVID-19 Spread.”[1]

As part of six recommended actions for school administrators, study authors advocate the use of ultraviolet germicidal irradiation among several “proven technologies for improving indoor air quality.”

A broad conclusion of this research is investments in healthy air in schools offer far-reaching benefits.

“Improved ventilation may give children and school staff healthier indoor air quality for decades in the future, providing a healthier environment for non-pandemic times and potentially reducing risks in future infectious disease outbreaks.”

Researchers note that federal funding (through the American Rescue Plan) is available to reduce risks related to COVID-19 in kindergarten through 12th-grade school systems.

“As administrators consider how they may use these funds to address their schools’ needs, we maintain that healthy air should be a priority in schools to (1) increase safety during the COVID-19 pandemic and potential future respiratory disease outbreaks and (2) improve student learning. Investments in healthy indoor air for K-12 schools are crucial for the health of the nation.”

Specific recommendations, in order of near- to long-term priorities outlined in the study include:

1. School administrators and decision-makers should improve school ventilation now by bringing in as much outdoor air as the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system will safely allow and upgrading filtration.

2. School administrators and decision-makers should purchase HEPA air filtration units to be placed in classrooms and common occupied spaces.

3. School systems should use only proven technologies for improving indoor air quality: appropriate ventilation, HEPA filtration, or ultraviolet germicidal irradiation.

Researchers cite specific examples for school operations and building managers to consider:

“[school facility directors] should not use chemical foggers or any “air cleaner” other than filtration and ultraviolet germicidal irradiation. School systems should not use unproven technologies such as ozone generators, ionization, plasma, and air disinfection with chemical foggers and sprays. The effect of these cleaning methods on children has not been tested and may be detrimental to their health. The primary aim for improving air quality should be to remove contaminants and impurities from the air and not to introduce new substances into the air.”

4. School administrators and decision-makers should stop enhanced cleaning, disinfecting, “deep clean” days, and any other expensive and disruptive cleaning.

5. School administrators and decision-makers should install mechanical ventilation systems where none exist and upgrade those that do not meet current standards.

6. The US government should convene a federal task force dedicated to school air quality to develop guidance for long-term, sustainable, cost-effective improvements to indoor air quality in schools.

Read the full study here.

[1] Olsiewski PJ, Bruns R, Gronvall GK, et al. School Ventilation: A Vital Tool to Reduce COVID-19 Spread. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security; 2021. Retrieved from https://www.centerforhealthsecurity.org/our-work/publications/school-ventilation