The Center for Green Schools, with technical support from ASHRAE, has released a new report detailing how school districts have used air quality measures in their buildings to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report, Preparation in the Pandemic: How Schools Implemented Air Quality Measures to Protect Occupants from COVID-19, puts additional data behind the case for school infrastructure investment. Schools relied on their HVAC systems to make buildings safer for students and teachers, but in many cases, these systems were outdated or not designed to support the recommended strategies.
The report is the only known national view of indoor air quality (IAQ) in schools during the pandemic, covering what school districts have prioritized, which actions they have taken, how they have made decisions and what the consequences have been. The responses cover over 4,000 schools serving over 2.5 million students in 24 states.
Where school districts were able to act, they leaned heavily on their mechanical systems to implement protective air quality measures for students and teachers. Of respondents, 87% increased outdoor air supply through existing HVAC systems, 77% imposed a flushing strategy and 70% upgraded their filters in at least some of their schools.
The most frequently cited challenge to implementing protective air quality measures at schools was that school buildings were not designed to support the strategies that were being recommended. For five of the six recommended air quality strategies, this challenge was top of mind. For the sixth strategy—air cleaners with HEPA filters—high cost was the most frequent challenge.
Only two-thirds of respondents were regularly monitoring IAQ before the pandemic, indicating that providing time, staff and funding for regular monitoring and data collection has not been a priority for many districts in the past. However, respondents want to continue with the measures implemented during the pandemic, citing student and teacher health, and 70% of school districts plan to continue some or all of the strategies they’ve implemented.
Read the report for more details about what school districts have implemented, including how their actions on air quality affected energy usage, and what strategies schools need to be better prepared for future crises.