Filtration, air exchange and air disinfection are the new COVID-19 focus

The White House begins a push to fight a resurgence of COVID-19 by encouraging building owners and managers to focus on what it calls the “Clean Air in Buildings Challenge.”

In short, the strategy encourages people to open windows and let air inside closed buildings, use air filtration systems like HEPA or MERV-13, and consider adding ultraviolet germicidal irradiation systems to HVAC units. The White House explains:

“Research shows changing the air in a room multiple times an hour with filtered or clean outdoor air — using a window fan, by using higher MERV filters in a Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system, using portable air-cleaning devices, and even just opening a window — can reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission — with studies showing five air changes an hour reduce transmission risk by 50 percent. And, improving indoor air has benefits beyond COVID-19: it will reduce the risk of getting the flu, a common cold, or other diseases spread by air, and lead to better overall health outcomes.”

Some of these suggestions are easy and common-sense measures while others can be expensive and might be more suitable for new construction rather than retrofitting existing systems. Given all of the new home, apartment, and condo construction going on, I wonder if builders are considering these ideas in their new units. I also wonder how much of an attraction these filtration measures would be for office space shoppers.

The American Rescue Plan includes billions of dollars to improve filtration. The White House says:

“Federal funds and resources are available to support improvements in ventilation, filtration, and clean indoor air — the American Rescue Plan has $122 billion for schools and $350 billion for state, local, and Tribal governments, which can support upgrades to their local businesses, nonprofits, community centers, and other commercial and public establishments. Additionally, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides billions of dollars to our communities to support people’s health and safety in new or upgraded airports, transportation hubs, low-income housing, schools, and other buildings.”

Kaiser Health News found that thousands of schools across 44 states used federal recovery funds to install air filtration systems that use unproven technology. In fact, some of the units installed in public classrooms made air quality worse, pumping high levels of ozone into the buildings.

Because this one budget line item, HVAC filtration, involves so much money, and there is so much hype about unproven technology, it is worth journalists’ effort to track the spending. In Ohio, for example, the state is spending a half-billion dollars on filtration upgrades. The Dayton Daily News spent time with the workers who install the systems. Future Ed’s survey of 3,500 school systems, including charter schools, found HVAC upgrades were the single biggest category of intended spending of federal COVID-19 aid.


Future Ed reports:

More than half the districts and charters in the sample, 1,668, expect to spend money on school climate systems, and HVAC is a top-three priority in every region.

The spending averages out to about $401 per student across agencies choosing this option.

  • The plans range from thousand-dollar investments in filters that block the spread of the virus to multi-million-dollar plans for replacing entire HVAC systems.
  • Los Angeles Unified School District, for instance, has budgeted $50 million of its $2.5 billion in ESSER III funding to provide 55,000 portable, commercial-grade air scrubbers for every classroom and commonly used room.
  • St. Joseph’s School District in Missouri is budgeting its entire $25 million for HVAC upgrades.
  • In the town of Ukiah, California, the school district intends to devote about half its ESSER funding, $6 million, to upgrade and replace aging systems.
  • Similarly, the Newport News Public Schools in Virginia plans to spend $40 million, or nearly half its allotment, to replace HVAC systems in several the city’s schools and add air purifiers and filters. Suburban Montgomery County
  • Maryland, by contrast, has earmarked $6.6 million of its $262 million in ESSER funds for improving and upgrading ventilation systems.
  • Rural school districts and charter organizations plan to spend $566 per pupil on HVAC systems, compared to $563 for towns, $389 for cities, and $330 for suburbs. The cost differences could reflect the diseconomies of scale for education agencies in less-populous communities: HVAC work costs more per pupil when there are fewer students in a building. It also indicates a short supply of the materials and contractors needed to complete the projects.

Such improvements are explicitly allowed in American Rescue Plan since they can not only prevent the spread of Covid, but can also guard against other airborne illnesses and provide a more comfortable climate for learning.

Under the current federal guidelines, all HVAC improvements must be completed by September 2024. So this work will take years to complete and journalists should start thinking about how they will track this massive spending for years to come.


Article Source: Filtration, air exchange, and air disinfection are the new COVID-19 focus – Poynter

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