Public Schools Have Not Improved Indoor Air Quality Since Pandemic

CDC report finds fewer than 40% of schools have replaced or upgraded their HVAC systems

June 22, 2022

School facility managers and custodians are tasked with creating a healthy environment for students and teachers during the pandemic. Although schools have been concentrating on increased and enhanced cleaning, most have not given as much attention to the indoor air quality (IAQ), even though COVID-19 is spread through the air.  According to a new report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fewer than 40% of American public schools have replaced or upgraded their HVAC systems since the start of the pandemic and even less (28%) are using high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters.  

The report also found that 73.6% of public schools opted to relocate activities outdoors while 70.5% chose to use the same filtration systems as before. The CDC’s information revealed similar results as a report issued last month by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) which found IAQ in schools lacking.  

Funding appears to be a major obstacle for schools, as roughly 25% of school officials believe they do not have the resources to improve ventilation, while another quarter are “unsure” whether funding is available. The time-consuming process of hiring contractors and acquiring state/federal approval is also a likely hindrance.  

However, funding is available for school HVAC upgrades, with US $13 billion available for schools in the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act; an additional $54 billion approved in December 2020 for schools’ use; and $122 billion for schools from the 2021 American Rescue Plan. According to Kaiser Health News, “​​Clean-air advocates said the pandemic funding provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make the air more breathable for students and staff members.” 

Fortunately, a FutureEd Analysis revealed that districts intend to devote nearly $10 billion from the latest round of funding to ventilation and air filtration in coming years, budgeting about $400 a student. This budget analysis, if accurate, could help to improve the indoor air quality of public schools across the nation and the overall health of students well beyond COVID-19.  

There is hope that this pandemic funding will make a significant dent in school IAQ issues moving forward. ​​“That’s just something that school districts don’t normally have the funds to do a deep dive on,” said Emile Lauzzana, executive director of capital projects for Ann Arbor Public Schools. “It’s unfortunate that it took a pandemic to get us here, but we’re in a much better place with indoor air quality today.” 

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