This winter, K-12 schools are battling against increasing rates of COVID-19, RSV, and the flu. This season has been deemed a “tripledemic,” as three major respiratory illnesses are threatening students and staff in K-12 schools across the country.
With that being said, K-12 facility teams do have some power to fight against this rise of respiratory infections. Read on to find out what simple measures can help protect your school district.
The Effect of Indoor CO2 Emissions
As many facility leaders know, most modern buildings have intricate duct work throughout a school to control temperature and keep the air fresh within a relatively sealed building. This constant flow of air is great, but clean-smelling air doesn’t quite constitute “clean air.”
In fact, Yale Climate Connections found that while HVAC systems circulate the air, contaminants are still trapped within the building itself. Contaminants are the last thing we want clogging our air ducts, since the threat of spreading respiratory illnesses is high, and US hospitals struggle for adequate capacity for patients with respiratory illnesses.
Recommendations for Better Air Quality in K-12 Schools
- Measure your building’s current CO2 levels
Measuring the carbon dioxide level should be the first way to evaluate your district’s existing air quality. Best practices recommends using C02 monitors, which are a low-cost way of monitoring carbon dioxide levels within a school building.
The National Education Association also recommends investing in non-dispersive infrared sensors, which are small and can be used in a variety of settings. (Note: it’s important to leave these sensors in occupied rooms, so it can accurately measure the average CO2 emissions that students and faculty face.)
If your district consistently reports elevated levels of CO2, that indicates that your school building is in need of a better ventilation system. Monitoring carbon dioxide levels won’t stop contaminants from spreading, but it is the first step in identifying the problem.
- Use portable HEPA filters
Portable air cleaners can help purify the air in areas where it’s hard to achieve proper ventilation. HEPA filters, in particular, are commonly used in air systems for planes and hospitals. It may seem a bit extreme to put a device like this in a K-12 district, but the science is clear when it comes to respiratory illnesses. Air cleaners like HEPA can help decrease the chances of transmitting diseases like COVID-19 or RSV, as long as the air filter is redirecting air flow.
While filters can benefit the health of students and staff, it is no substitute for proper ventilation systems.
- Perform regular preventative maintenance on HVAC systems
HVAC systems are crucial to improving a building’s air quality. However, these systems are intricate pieces of equipment that need regular maintenance. Scheduling regular preventative maintenance for your district’s HVAC system can help create a healthier environment for students and staff.
iiQ Facilities from Incident IQ features a host of tools that help K-12 districts stay on top of recurring maintenance tasks. iiQ Facilities can automatically generate new work orders at scheduled intervals to ensure recurring tasks are always scheduled at the right time.
- Undergo complete air changes 4-6 times an hour
That is the general rule of thumb, at least, but these guidelines can change depending on the size of the room and the amount of people occupying it. The CDC recommends a higher Air Changes per Hour (ACH), which has been documented to lower the risk of spreading airborne illnesses.
Facility leaders can accomplish these air changes via outdoor ventilation or recirculated/cleaned air. Opening windows, running the HVAC, and using HEPA filters can all work together to provide the recommended ACH level.
Clean air is a critical part of K-12 infrastructure. Ultimately, facility leaders should consider the health of their student body and make sure ventilation systems are regularly serviced, and that clean air is circulated and monitored in classrooms using a variety of tools.
As Lidia Morawska said to The Atlantic, how much changes in the K-12 landscape “depends on the momentum created now.” Respiratory illnesses will always be a factor for K-12 education, so facility and district leaders should strive to provide the best environment possible for students and faculty.