This fall, Americans are going to one place. Polls on Election Day? Schools? Offices? All of those are, in one sense, the same destination: inside.
The crisis facing millions of parents about sending their kids back to in-person learning is an agonizing experience, but it’s one we’re all about to share in the months to come. Millions will crowd into polling locations on November 3, casting their vote and risking exposure to COVID-19 in the process.
That may only be one day of the year, but the offices and workplaces we’re heading back to share the same knack for poor ventilation, outdated or inefficient filters, and poor maintenance that polling locations and schools offer. While locations may boast a vigorous regimen of surface cleaning and disinfection, too few have done anything to address the proven risks of poor air purification.
There are myriad examples of the virus spreading in enclosed spaces with dense populations. Perhaps the most striking was the outbreak in the San Quentin Prison. According to the L.A. Times, over 2,200 cases were reported in just weeks, showing just how virulent the disease can spread in facilities rated “exceedingly poor” by local officials.
Officials welcoming hundreds of children to schools this fall won’t have the luxury of testing each pupil, each educator, and every person who walks through the doors. They’ll have to do what they are doing; enforcing masks, creating socially-distant learning environments and reducing the sheer volume of interactions that students would typically encounter each and every day. Before those boxes are crossed, however, ventilation should be addressed.
First, schools and every building can support their investment in air purification by reducing the number of possible carriers to begin with. Work to reduce the number of people in the building at any given time and throughout the entire day. Restrict workers to “pods”, or the same group of co-workers or students to help quickly identify spread in the event of a positive test.
Open windows. The first step in improving airflow is to move it, and simply opening windows is the easiest, most straightforward way to go about it.
Most importantly, upgrade. Of the 65 school districts surveyed by the federal government this summer, 41 needed substantial upgrades to their HVAC and ventilation systems. Schools and buildings won’t be able to leave windows open indefinitely, but it does buy facilities precious time to make the right investments to keep their people safe.