Obviously the spread of COVID-19 is on everybody’s mind. In particular for the school personnel and the risks involved for teachers and students. The news is filled with stories from different states regarding the reopening of their schools. And improving ventilation in schools is becoming a higher priority.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and Ventilation for Schools
On March 11th, 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act, also known as the $1.9 Trillion COVID Stimulus Plan, was signed into law. One of the areas this plan covers is school support. In particular the bill set aside nearly $130 billion to help schools K-12.
How is that money going to be spent? It remains to be seen, but according to the Washington Post some of it would go to improving ventilation in schools. School funding can also be used for personal protective equipment and reducing class sizes. While improving the latter items will of course help the situation, according to the CDC, ASHRAE, and a handful of other authoritative sources, improving the ventilation in schools will make the most difference in providing a safe environment and reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
And even if the school’s ventilation system is working it most likely isn’t designed to filter virus particles to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. Michigan is struggling with this issue reporting only “few of those schools have filters capable of removing viral particles from the air, a key, experts say, to fighting the virus indoors.” And in Michigan the state doesn’t fund improvements to the air handling systems, so it is left up to local community tax revenues.
With a large portion of our nation’s schools being older with older HVAC systems one can assume that most schools are in similar shape. The problem is that even if $130 billion would be enough to replace air units across the country, to accomplish this would take a significant amount of time. And many of our students are suffering by not reopening schools.
Recommendations for Improving Ventilation in Schools
It’s clear that having up-to-date HVAC systems is needed. This is likely to take years and ongoing revenue. So until this can happen, what practical recommendations are offered?
Of course the CDC recommends masks and social distancing just like any other gathering. But more specifically they are suggesting looking for ways to simply improve the air quality. With that in mind they share a number of ways to increase the inward flow of outdoor air as much as possible. For this the recommendations are similar to improving ventilation for homes.
Another recommendation is to increase the circulation. And the simplest way to do that would be to run the system longer and/or more frequently. Since HVAC systems have air filters, logically the more the system runs the more likely it is to filter particles out of the air. Along with this then it is important to have regular maintenance that includes cleaning HVAC systems and even duct work.
But one of the most critical parts to ventilation in schools is the actual air filter itself. ASHRAE recommends filters with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating of 13. A MERV 13 filter is designed to capture smaller microns in the air as well as provide virus free air. Regularly inspecting and replacing dirty air filters will keep your system working more efficiently and in turn improve ventilation for schools.
Old School Ventilation Solutions to Reopen Schools
So we really need solutions now so our school can reopen safely as soon as possible. So it makes sense to do the simple things that don’t cost too much money right away. Maintenance for one can be done rather quickly.
Existing maintenance personnel, or even using some of the American Rescue Plan money for additional personnel, can keep fresh air vents unblocked. And they can look for inexpensive ways to increase the intake of outside air.
But the most effective immediate term solution would be to switch to MERV 13 filters. Most schools are using air filters rated around MERV 8, That would be equivalent to a person wearing a cloth mask instead of an N-95 mask.
Now you might be wondering if the old systems in schools can work with the newer MERV 13 air filters. In some cases the systems will need modifications for the MERV 13 to fit. But these are minor, cost effective and can be done quickly. Then regular maintenance and cleaning will allow schools to continue to use their current ventilation systems. This isn’t to suggest that the older systems don’t need to be upgraded, but it is a quick, and cost effective way (which schools now have the money for) for schools to safely reopen with improved ventilation.
NanoAir Solutions Helps Improve Ventilation for Schools
If your school is using filters rated lower than MERV 13 we highly recommend that you contact us right away. Or ask the person in charge at your school to contact us right away. We can help you determine the best set of filters to improve the ventilation in your school.
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