Schools and Businesses Turning to Ventilation as a Pandemic Safeguard

April 25, 2022

Although most parts of the United States have abandoned mask mandates and social distancing, the pandemic is not over and facilities still need methods of protecting people from COVID-19. Owners and managers at many facilities, especially schools, are overhauling their ventilation systems to improve indoor air quality and protect against airborne viruses like SARS-CoV-2, CNN reports.

Epidemiologists and aerosol scientists say that improved ventilation is a powerful tool against the coronavirus — if businesses are willing to invest the money. Earlier this spring the White House launched a voluntary initiative encouraging schools and work sites to assess and improve their ventilation. The federal American Rescue Plan Act provides US$122 billion for ventilation inspections and upgrades in schools, as well as $350 billion to state and local governments for a range of community-level pandemic recovery efforts, including ventilation and filtration.

Lower infection rates in Georgia elementary schools have been linked to ventilation upgrades, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Other studies have found that exchanging indoor air five times an hour cuts the risk of coronavirus transmission in half.

However, following industry ventilation standards remains voluntary. Although the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) released new ventilation guidelines for reducing exposure to the coronavirus, there is no rule requiring facility manages to adopt these guidelines and ASHRAE has no power to enforce its standards. Many cities and states incorporate ventilation standards into local building codes for new construction, but older structures are usually not held to the same standards.

Federal agencies also have little authority over indoor ventilation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates standards for outdoor air quality only, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is limited to enforcing indoor-air-quality requirements in health care facilities.

Epidemiologists are calling for a federal standard for indoor air quality but are concerned such a standard would result in backlash from the business community. In the meantime, many facility managers are recognizing the importance of air quality and are pushing for accommodations to be made in company budgets to update ventilation systems.

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