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The recent coronavirus pandemic has placed a spotlight on school safety and the reopening of classrooms across the United States; a mix of local mandates and orders have kept some kids home with virtual learning, while others have opted for in-person classes. Still, parents, school officials and community members are concerned about the health and welfare of children in classrooms.

And for good reason. Kids spend upwards of 1,000 hours in classrooms each year—and those classrooms often have poor indoor air quality, what with germs, viruses, odors and bacteria floating in stale, recirculated air. This air quality is one reason childhood asthma is on the rise: according to the Centers for Disease Control, asthma increased by 25 percent between 2001 and 2011, with an increase highest among Black children at more than a 50 percent jump. Indeed, 5.5 million children under the age of 18 are affected by asthma. And, according to the CDC, poor indoor air quality can trigger asthma events.

Kids in school wearing masks

Air needs to be a priority.

While wearing masks inside classrooms and school buildings can help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, wearing masks can’t solve the health concerns entirely. Instead, focusing on cleaning indoor air is a priority. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency believes improving indoor air quality can reduce absenteeism, boost performance and enhance test scores.

A key to improving indoor air lies in exploring the ventilation system and the ability to provide more air exchanges per hour. To this end, many schools can’t overhaul their existing HVAC systems, but can augment them with standalone units. According to Joshua Santarpia, a microbiologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, air purifiers—like our own line of AeraMax Professional commercial grade units—could “dramatically reduce airborne contaminants.”

Public health experts advocate air filtration and ventilation

That sentiment is echoed by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which advocates for freestanding air filtration units to complement existing HVAC systems in schools to reduce airborne contaminants.

And while portable air purification units can augment the use of Personal Protective Equipment, like face masks and shields, there’s an added benefit: they help the overall cleaning process for schools, which typically focus on hand washing and surface cleaning.

Classroom with Aeramax Pro

School administrators see the benefits

That’s what Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School in Athens, Georgia found out when it installed AeraMax Professional air purifiers in select classrooms. These commercial-grade four-stage filtration systems feature HEPA filters to effectively and efficiently remove up to 99.97 percent of airborne contaminants, like the flu, bacteria, germs, viruses, odors and volatile organic compounds, for classroom air.

“Within the first week of installation, we could tell a difference in the rooms,” Dr. Scarlett Dunne, principal at Oglethorpe, said. “There was a noticeable change…It smelled much fresher and we could see a difference in (the amount of) coughing and sneezing.” Facilities personnel also noticed less dust on surfaces, accelerating the nightly cleaning process.

Additionally, a survey conducted by administrators of teachers showed that the teachers also felt better. Likewise, anecdotal conversations with parents revealed that the parents noticed a difference in their children’s health.

So, AeraMax Professional can be an integral part in bringing about a new normal to classrooms, one involving more than just face masks and social distancing. Instead, this new normal will hinge on one thing: fresher air.

Nearly 55 million Americans, primarily children, spend their days inside K-12 schools, according to The School Superintendents Association.

Remarkably, the organization also reports that nearly half the nation’s schools suffer from poor indoor air quality (IAQ).

How are facility managers tackling this issue and effectively targeting problem areas?

The state of indoor air quality in schools

Many schools across the nation have IAQ issues caused by a wide range of building conditions, including:

  • Poor ventilation
  • Lack of humidity control
  • Indoor and outdoor pesticides
  • Water damage
  • Airborne germs, pollen, volatile organic compounds and other particulate

In addition schools can quickly become hubs for spreading the influenza virus and other seasonal illnesses due to high traffic in shared spaces.

Absenteeism and academic performance

Poor IAQ can negatively affect academic focus on a day-to-day basis, while simultaneously contributing to increased absences and hurting long-term academic performance.

Polluted air can make learning environments uncomfortable for students and teachers by causing symptoms such as watery eyes, congestion, coughing, headaches, nausea and dizziness that detract from a student’s classroom focus. In time, this can lead to illnesses that cause unnecessary absenteeism.

IAQ-related issues are of particular concern for students with chronic breathing problems and severe allergies. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency has found that asthma-related illnesses account for more than 14 million missed school days each year.

When Hinsdale Middle School in Hinsdale, IL installed four AeraMax Professional units, it targeted similar issues. For example, one student was facing constant discomfort in the science lab where the student spent most of each school day. After the AeraMax Pro was placed in the classroom, the issue disappeared, to the relief of the student’s parents, as well as the middle school’s principal and facility manager.

Improving our students’ air

Creating healthy and safe learning environments for students, teachers and staff requires a robust approach to IAQ. An integral part of this process is removing germs and toxic particles from the air, specifically in bacteria hubs such as bathrooms, locker rooms and classrooms.

Schools need to address the problem at its source by:

  • Minimizing mold exposure and excess moisture
  • Eliminating the usage of toxic cleaning agents
  • Maintaining temperature and humidity at safe levels
  • Ensuring that all ventilation equipment is performing optimally
  • Implementing effective dusting, vacuuming and garbage disposal practices

That’s why schools like Hinsdale Middle School are installing commercial air purifiers to target problem areas. These systems ensure effective odor and germ removal and preserve a safe and clean learning environment for students, teachers and staff.