There’s more data on the safety of getting students back in the classroom. How can we ensure millions of families stay safe? Air purification and masks. But it may not be that simple.
One of the biggest challenges of getting America open again has been reopening schools safely. In March, many school districts switching from traditional in-person learning to virtual options to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus among children. That left many parents struggling to choose between work and childcare, a decision that worried many as fall semester approached with an even bleaker pandemic picture.
However, there is good news. Just this month, a Syracuse University study found that the combination of good ventilation and masks greatly reduced the transmission of COVID-19 in school children.
One of the most important efforts to reduce the spread is also the least expensive and most simple. Wearing a mask plays an important role in staying healthy, especially in situations where social distancing just isn’t possible. The study focused on a classroom setting with 20 students in a 600 square foot space. Without masks and with poor ventilation, a startling 80% of students could expect to be infected by the virus. However, with even cloth masks and proper ventilation, that number falls precipitously to just 5%. With all 20 students wearing surgical masks, the risk sits at 2%.
There are some important issues that are best put down to a lack of leadership. Mask mandates in schools are on a district-by-district basis. Across the country, there’s a patchwork of recommendations and guidelines, with no blanket enforcement of what many health experts strongly recommend. Even when masks are required in schools, there’s the challenge of enforcement; kids are often distracted by masks, or simply forget to keep them on or to keep their hands off of them.
The study also didn’t account for social interactions outside of the normal classroom, either. There is an additional risk of transmission in spaces where multiple classrooms come together, such as gyms, special classrooms like art and music, or in the cafeteria. It’s in the lunchroom, where masks will inevitably be removed, that the risk elevates significantly.
That’s why ventilation throughout the entire building makes a difference. Ventilation is measured by the rate of air exchange in a room, with three full air exchanges per hour considered good or fair. A more ideal number would be closer to six, while poor ventilation may not even turn over stagnant air a single time in an hour. Many buildings are designed for maximum efficiency, which could greatly reduce air exchange. To compensate, many school districts are installing more power fans to push air through thicker HEPA or MERV filters, which do a better job eliminating air particles like COVID-19. Both filters and fans add expense, with the additional rise in operating costs as a result.
Air purification through technologies like Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization is also filling the gap. These systems can eliminate as much as 99.9% of all airborne viruses and bacteria. When paired with masks and improved ventilation, air purification can lower the risk of transmission to levels parents, teachers, and communities can feel comfortable with.
Contact Keen today to learn more about our work to help schools and businesses reopen safely this fall. We’re working around the close to keep our customers safe and ready for what’s next.