Schools and air quality

Liz Szabo:

Many schools in California and nationwide were in dire need of upgrades — burdened by leaking pipes, mold, and antiquated heating systems — long before the pandemic drew attention to the importance of indoor ventilation in reducing the spread of infectious disease.

The average U.S. school building is 50 years old, and many schools date back more than a century.

So, one might assume school districts across the nation would welcome the opportunity created by billions of dollars in federal COVID-relief money available to upgrade heating and air-conditioning systems and improve air quality and filtration in K-12 schools.

But a report released this month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found most U.S. public schools have made no major investments in improving indoor ventilation and filtration since the start of the pandemic. Instead, the most frequently reported strategies to improve airflow and reduce COVID risk were notably low-budget, such as relocating classroom activities outdoors and opening windows and doors, if considered safe.

The CDC report, based on a representative sample of the nation’s public schools, found that fewer than 40% had replaced or upgraded their HVAC systems since the start of the pandemic. Even fewer were using high-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filters in classrooms (28%), or fans to increase the effectiveness of having windows open (37%).

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