March 15, 2022 / Mark Ames

White House Encourages Ventilation Improvements in New COVID-19 Preparedness Plan

Shortly after President Biden delivered his first State of the Union address in early March, the White House released a new National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan (PDF). The plan, which “lays out the roadmap to help us fight COVID-19 in the future,” contains four goals: protect against and treat COVID-19, prepare for new COVID-19 variants, prevent economic and educational shutdowns, and continue to lead the effort to vaccinate the world and save lives. The plan also includes a clear call to Congress to do its part by providing implementation funding, noting that without funding, many of the activities proposed in the plan cannot be initiated or sustained.

The Details

Everyone would likely benefit from becoming familiar with all aspects of the new plan. While OEHS is not a focus, many of the goals reference OEHS activities. For instance, a newly expanded program to support the mental health of healthcare workers, which builds on efforts by NIOSH, is mentioned on pages 55 and 74. (AIHA’s comments on the NIOSH efforts are available as a PDF download from the AIHA website.) Other elements include ensuring that the Strategic National Stockpile has sufficient quantities of PPE and related supplies in the event of a future COVID surge (see page 70).

Of particular interest is Goal Three, "Prevent Economic and Educational Shutdowns," which explicitly refers to OSHA. A significant portion of Goal Three focuses on improving building ventilation. According to the plan, “Improvements to ventilation systems can maximize health outcomes. When indoors, effective ventilation strategies can help reduce viral particle concentration as well as other indoor air contaminants, which is why the administration will continue to provide support in improving ventilation, so Americans can remain safely indoors as they proceed with their lives.”

The administration plans to drive ventilation improvements by launching a new Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, which will be led by EPA, and by providing guidance and technical assistance, including a Clean Air in Buildings Checklist. These programs and initiatives will be targeted toward building owners and managers, businesses, school leaders, and state, local, and tribal governments. The plan emphasizes that state and local governments and schools can use a combined total of $480 billion from existing American Rescue Plan funds to improve their ventilation systems.

The administration also plans to launch a new public awareness campaign to help communicate the links between ventilation improvements, indoor air quality, and health. For additional information on the administration’s proposals for improving indoor air quality, see pages 81–83 of the plan.

OSHA, too, gets a share of the spotlight in the new plan, which states that the agency will update its guidance to help employers protect employees.

AIHA is working with agencies and members of Congress on the rollout, implementation, and funding of the new plan, including the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge and Clean Air in Buildings Checklist. We’ll share key information as it becomes available.

Legislative Developments

In the meantime, members of Congress continue working on pandemic preparedness and response legislation. Recently, AIHA provided feedback on two new proposals: the Prepare for and Respond to Existing Viruses, Emerging New Threats, and Pandemics Act (PREVENT Pandemics Act) and the OSHA ETS Clarification Act.

Our comments (PDF) on the PREVENT Pandemics Act include 16 recommended improvements for strengthening infectious disease prevention and response in workplaces, noting that “[t]he distinct advantage of workplaces is that employers and workers, through safe work procedures, can help prevent and limit the spread of infectious diseases to workers, customers, patients, clients, and visitors.”

In our comments (PDF) on the OSHA ETS Clarification Act, we acknowledge “the desire to clarify the sometimes ambiguous scope of OSHA regarding ETSs” but encourage Congress to instead “focus on strengthening the ability of federal and state governments, employers, and businesses to prepare for, respond to, and recover from infectious diseases, such as COVID-19.”

Volunteer Opportunities

Although the future remains uncertain for the administration’s new plan and legislation in Congress, we can always rely on our volunteers. Already this year, AIHA members have volunteered more than 100 times to help author letters to congressional and state policymakers. We sincerely thank all our members for their tireless efforts to translate their technical expertise into public policy recommendations. If anyone would like to get more involved in government relations, please email me and consider joining AIHA’s Government Relations Committee. More information about the committee and a sign-up form are available online.

Mark Ames

Mark Ames is AIHA’s director of Government Relations.


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