reopening schools

Next Challenge for Schools? Safe Ventilation In Classrooms

NBC Universal, Inc.

COVID-19 has not been designated an airborne disease by the World Health Organization yet, but scientists believe there is enough evidence to prove there is the potential for airborne transmission. So what are the 1,187 schools in Connecticut doing to improve ventilation? 

“Each school is different, each classroom inside a school is different,” Paulo Verardi, an associate professor of virology and vaccinology at the University of Connecticut, said. “Some have windows that open to the outside, some don’t have windows that open to the outside. Some actually have HVAC systems, some actually don’t have HVAC systems so it’s a complicated situation.” 

Verardi said what will be important for schools reopening is the movement of fresh air into the classroom. 

“For ventilation, really what you don’t want is stagnant air. So you don’t want to have a classroom that does not have air circulation,” he explained.

Verardi said the best thing to do would be to bring fresh air in and take the old air out of the classroom. 

Moms like Michelle Manafy are skeptical about the ability of the schools to make that happen. 

 “The way that many of the classrooms are structured they actually don’t even have windows. They are interiors spaces that rely entirely on HVAC for their ventilation,” Manafy said.

If there is a window, Verardi said you can put a fan in one window bringing fresh air in and another fan to take the air out of the classroom. 

“Ideally, we would have a system that brings clean air from the outside and moves all the air through the rooms and takes it out."

He said what’s important to understand about ventilation is that anything that avoids stagnant air is good. It’s not always necessary to have an open window, as long as there is a heating and cooling system that’s operating properly. 

“Connecticut high-performance building standards require that windows are not operable,” Kostantinos Diamantis said. “They don’t open so it makes it more efficient, makes more efficient window structure as well as allowing mechanicals to work effectively and efficiently.” 

Diamantis, director of the Office of School Construction, said they’ve learned that air conditioning systems using outside air are more effective in reducing all airborne illnesses. 

“We found out that HVAC systems and moving the air is a good thing,” Diamantis said.   

But there’s still a risk. 

“Even if you have the most perfect HVAC system that takes completely new air in and takes all of the old air out and filters it and renews, there is no way to eliminate risk completely,” Verardi said.

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