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Schools (and Children) Need a Fresh Air Fix

Harvard’s School of Public Health
the World Health Organization
House of Commons
Lawrence Berkeley National Labs
UC Davis
Government Accountability Office
the University of Colorado
Beth Israel
Condé Nast
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Joseph Allen
David Boswell Reid
Florence Nightingale
Witold Rybczynski
Joe Allen’s
Rengie Chan
Thomas Talhelm
Westyn Branch-Elliman
Emily Jones


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Dilute it.While physical distancing and mask wearing help cut down transmission via larger droplets, when it comes to airborne transmission, ventilation and filtration, which reduce the concentration of virus floating in the air, will also be key to making indoor spaces safer.Allen, who worked as a safe-buildings consultant before entering academia, has been helping schools, universities, and daycare centers work on plans for reopening. But studies show many American classrooms have an average ventilation rate of only 6 to 11 cfm per person.Even when there isn’t a pandemic going on, that’s not good, because a substantial body of research suggests that better air flow is correlated with increased test scores and reduced absences. But even in schools with upgraded systems, Chan and colleagues at LBL and UC Davis found that about half of classrooms still didn’t get enough fresh air, because controls were not set to adequate ventilation, or the systems weren’t maintained or installed correctly.People are starting to realize this is an issue, even on the level of the federal government, Chan says. This was the first step in what Allen says is a pretty simple way to reduce the likelihood that SARS-CoV-2 will spread in schools.Read all of our coronavirus coverage here.Allen estimates that for reducing Covid-19 risk, the air in the room should be completely replaced at least five times an hour. In that Boston school, the balometer registered about 400 cfm of fresh air coming in through the unit ventilator in one classroom. “In one, when the windows and doors were open, we were at 17 to 20 air changes per hour,” Allen says.When windows and doors can’t be opened—which will become more of an issue as cold weather arrives—installing a filter in the unit ventilator or the central ventilation system can help. Thomas Talhelm, the founder of SmartAir, a social enterprise that makes simple, inexpensive air cleaners, says that interest has definitely increased this summer.But in the long term, beyond this pandemic, a better awareness of ventilation could benefit both students and teachers.“I hope beyond hope we have an effective vaccine. “It’s a no-lose scenario to invest in ventilation in schools.”So far, the Harvard report has been downloaded more than 7,000 times, and the report’s site has logged more than 112,000 visits in a couple of months.“This is a time for the basics of healthy buildings,” Allen says.

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