WASHINGTON, DC-(Pinkston News Service)- In the spring of 2020, school leaders wrestled with how to keep students learning effectively while sheltering at home. Now with students returning to the classroom, the mission has changed: keep them safe.
School districts across the country, backed by state and federal money, are investing millions of dollars to bring new procedures, equipment and technology to their buildings.
The solutions being employed range from old to new, from high-tech to basic.
Many schools have invested funds toward HVAC improvements, including updating older ventilation systems without adequate air circulation and ventilation, which experts say is critical to keeping indoor spaces safe 一 especially given that the primary mode of SARS-CoV-2 transmission is through microscopic, lingering airborne particles.
At the start of the pandemic, the Government Accountability Office estimated that one-third of schools nationwide needed HVAC system updates. Digital Pioneers Academy, a public charter school in Washington, D.C., spent more than half a million dollars on HVAC upgrades, air purifying systems and other improvements to make their building safe for a maximum number of returning students.
While renovating or replacing HVAC systems to ensure adequate air flow is a strong start, some companies are offering schools the option to go further.
Citadel Sciences (citadelsciences.com), a Virginia-based health technology consultant, connects schools with next-generation air purifying ionizers which eliminate airborne pathogens while cutting school’s energy consumption. They also offer technology that monitors the air quality of indoor environments in real time to ensure that HVAC systems are properly working to reduce the risk of airborne transmission, or to warn occupants if there is a threat.
“Schools need a paradigm shift to return to the classroom,” said Citadel Sciences Chairman Jim Traficant. “The key is indoor air quality. Schools can now implement layers of air scrubbing protection to mitigate transmission risk while we’re together, lower energy costs and use sensors to see indoor air quality on phones and computer displays — and schools can access these air-cleaning layers for free with federal ESSER funds.”
Other providers are helping schools launch procedures to protect students beyond the standard physical precautions of masking and social distancing. AM LLC (amllc.co) offers local public health officials and school administrators the logistics and operational expertise they need to manage extra vaccine distribution, regular testing programs and robust contact tracing.
“Most local leaders know what they need to do to protect students, but in many cases don’t have the operational support to make it happen,” said AM LLC Chief Government Affairs Officer Steven Crim. “We strive to bridge the gap between the paper guidelines and functional protection.”