How to Achieve the Cleanest, Safest Air for Students, Teachers, and Visitors
Getting students and teachers back into the classroom is an important priority. Whether the students are in kindergarten or institutions of higher learning, there are invaluable benefits to having in-person instruction. With COVID-19 still very much a factor in our day-to-day lives, though, how can schools go about that safely?
10 Effective Methods for Reducing COVID-19 in Schools
1. Increase Your Outdoor Ventilation Rates
This was one of the earliest recommendations from the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), and it remains an effective and simple way to reduce the likelihood of airborne exposure and transmission of COVID-19. Bringing fresh, clean outdoor air inside can dilute pathogens, including COVID-19, in that occupied space.
The important caveat on this recommendation is that your HVAC system has to be able to handle the increased outdoor ventilation rates. Always consult with a professional HVAC contractor for guidance on your school’s specific system.
Be aware that some areas of the school might also require different outdoor ventilation rates. A gym, for example, where students are exercising would require more ventilation than a classroom where high schoolers are simply sitting in their desks. Similarly, a classroom full of rambunctious pre-K students would require more ventilation than a university’s lecture hall. When planning your outdoor ventilation amendments, ensure these kinds of factors are accounted for.
2. Increase the HVAC System’s Filtration Capability or Efficacy
This can be done in one of two ways:
Upgrade Your Filters
Another easy way to distribute cleaner, safer air throughout a school is by upgrading the HVAC filters. The current recommendation is to use a MERV 13, MERV 14, or HEPA filter. Again, though, you have to be certain your system can handle the added strain of these filters.
The tighter weave will more effectively capture particulate matter, but the system also has to work harder to force air through that filter. That added strain contributes to higher utility bills and more expense on preventative maintenance. Plus, if the system is not designed to overcome the work, it could fail outright.
Another matter of concern with MERV 13 filters is availability. Many face masks today are made from the same material as MERV 13 filters, so there’s the potential for a tremendous availability gap. That scarcity has also driven up filter prices. MERV 13 filters were routinely 40 percent more expensive than standard MERV 8 filters, but a MERV 13 filter today can be upwards of five times as expensive as a MERV 8.
In the absence of MERV 13 filters, yet another upgrade option is installing electrostatic air filters.
Install an Air Ionization System
If your HVAC system can’t handle a more effective filter, you can increase the efficacy of your existing filter by installing an air ionization system.
These devices generate ions that are distributed into the occupied space and cause “agglomeration,” the process where like particles attract to one another. As those particles grow larger and larger, they either fall out of the breathing range or get captured in your existing MERV 8 filter. This helps eliminate particulate that contributes to COVID-19 transmission, as well as deal with common allergens, such as dander and pollen. (Interested? Learn more about how this technology works.)
3. Install UV Treatment Systems
UV technology is one potential air quality improvement system for schools. UV disinfection, however, is not an instantaneous process. It takes the appropriate exposure time to kill the airborne pathogens and microorganisms (mold, bacteria, and viruses). To illustrate this, think about sitting out in the sun yourself. Without sunscreen, you won’t immediately burn, but sit for several hours in that UV radiation, and you’re going to feel the effects.
The other consideration with UV treatment is that it must be installed in a school’s HVAC ductwork. Excessive exposure to UV is a known cancer-causing agent, so it can’t be in a place where that UV can affect the students, staff members, teachers, or anyone else in the classroom. Because of this, UV can’t address infected surfaces, such as desks or telephones, that aren’t in its direct line of sight.
4. Install Humidifiers
A human nose is the immune system’s first line of defense. The mucus we swallow every day carries innumerable viruses into our stomachs, where they’re safely dissolved by acid. When the air is dry, however, that mucus becomes thicker, and the microscopic hairs in our noses are less able to move and effectively carry that mucus to the back of the throat. The result is viruses penetrating into the airways, where they can readily infect.
The moister the air, the more our natural defense against viruses can be effective. That being said, introducing excessive moisture into the system can promote mold growth, which brings its own health risks. Moderate humidifier use, and monitor this issue.
5. Frequent Hand Washing
One of the best things anyone can do on an individual level to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially in a potentially crowded school setting, is to wash hands thoroughly and frequently. Wash hands with soap and water for approximately twenty seconds each time.
Do this before eating, after using the restroom, and periodically throughout the day.
For older students or in institutions of higher learning, make this information readily available to the students. For younger children, make frequent hand washing a part of the daily school routine.
6. Regular Hand Sanitizing
If hand washing is not possible, use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. Hand washing is preferable and more effective, but hand sanitizer is a good stopgap until that can be done. Be especially certain to use hand sanitizer if you’ve sneezed or coughed directly into your hands. (Try to avoid this practice, though. Use a tissue or the crook of your elbow instead.)
7. Mask Wearing
When indoors, always keep your mask on. Children two and younger do not require face masks, but anyone older than that should be wearing one. This includes during the school day.
Masks are one of the most effective ways to protect yourself and others against COVID-19. For more guidance on mask wearing, check out what the CDC recommends.
8. Social Distancing
As schools move from virtual learning to in-person classes again, there should still be stipulations in place for proper social distancing. Desks, for example, should be arranged six feet apart, and a school might need to consider a hybrid system where a limited number of students are in the physical school building at any one time.
9. Implement Rigorous and Consistent Cleaning
Classrooms should be sanitized daily. Cleaning and disinfecting should focus on high-touch areas, such as doorknobs and other surfaces.
10. Get Immunized
Immunization is the long-term solution to stamping out COVID-19—in our schools, homes, workplaces, and everywhere between. When you are eligible to get your vaccination, do so. It protects you, and it protects everyone around you.
Battle COVID-19 on Multiple Fronts
Remember that many of these solutions are not mutually exclusive. Any combination of these approaches could enhance the overall safety of your school. For example, pairing air ionization with UV technology—consult a professional to ensure this is done correctly—could increase the efficacy of your whole indoor air quality improvement system. Don’t forget the best practices of mask wearing and social distancing should always still be observed in conjunction with any air purification system.
If you have any questions or concerns about the indoor air quality in your school, feel free to reach out. We love to help schools achieve the cleanest, safest air possible!
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