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Schools prepare for students by installing air quality meters to prevent spread of COVID

Posted at 3:29 PM, Jul 27, 2022

As students return to the classroom, schools are considering ways to prevent kids and staff from catching COVID-19.

Paula Olsiewski is a biochemist and contributing scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. She's an expert in indoor air quality.

"If you are exhaling the COVID particles, the person next to you can be inhaling the COVID particles," Olsiewski said.

Olsiewski says air quality monitors it's another tool in the toolbox as we continue through this pandemic.

"The doctors say 'get a vaccine,'" Olsiewski said. "Other people say 'protect yourself with a mask.' I do that. But cleaning the air and the room is the area that most people don't think about."

The meters monitor temperature, humidity, and microscopic particles like pollen and cleaning chemicals. Through a cloud service, you're able to see how much is in a room. When it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses, carbon dioxide is the element most schools will be focusing on.

University of Colorado civil engineering professor Mark Hernandez says an installation in Colorado is among the largest serving as a national model for other school districts wanting to prioritize a healthy environment for students.

"CO2 in particular, it tells us how stale the air is," Hernandez said. "If the air stale, there's a higher probability to see COVID because we exhale it."

Senseware, a provider of air quality meters, says more than 500 schools across the nation are currently using the technology.

"The D.C. Metro Schools have a fair-sized installation," Hernandez said. "There's another installation in central California in Monterey County."

While the monitors can't filter the air or detect COVID-19, Javier Ibarra with Denver Public Schools says they will know they need to take action if they see high levels of carbon dioxide.

"You're able to mitigate that simply by opening a window, opening a door, reducing the amount of students," Ibarra said.

Ibarra says the school district chose to get these monitors with federal dollars through the COVID Relief Fund.

"We were able to allocate specific dollars to our air quality," Ibarra said. "So, that included $25 million to fix our air ducts, boiler systems, etc. And then $1.5 million of that money went directly into these sensors called Senseware."

After doing the math, Hernandez says the cost of monitoring a classroom is equivalent to the cost of a textbook.

"Like so many things in the tech world, it's getting faster, better, cheaper," Hernandez said.

With more technology like this accessible to the public, we may be one step closer to putting COVID behind us.