October 14, 2020

To safely reopen schools, we have to talk about indoor air quality and ventilation

As counties across California look to reopen schools for onsite instruction, education and public health officials need to ask themselves a very important question: Have we made sure all schools and classrooms have adequate fresh air ventilation to reduce coronavirus transmission? If the answer is no, students and staff will get sick.

Some help emerged from Sacramento last week: the Governor signed Assembly Bill 841, which will tackle a slice of this. The bill creates the School Reopening Ventilation and Energy Efficiency Verification and Repair Program, directing upwards of $600 million in energy efficiency funding to test, adjust and repair heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC) systems in public schools over the next three years.

Our public school facilities are on the front lines of this pandemic. Physically closing school buildings in March was a necessary and swift tool for “extreme” physical distancing to combat Covid-19. We were instructed to keep space between each other and to sanitize frequently touched surfaces and our hands regularly. Six months into this pandemic, we’ve learned a great deal about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and how it transmits. We now know this virus can spread through the air.

With an airborne virus, the absolute riskiest places for groups of people are indoor environments that have very poor fresh air ventilation. This describes thousands of public school classrooms across California.

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