June 16, 2022

CDC Examines Ventilation Strategies in Public Schools

A report published last week by CDC focuses on strategies to improve ventilation and indoor air quality in schools. Though “substantial federal resources” are available to improve ventilation in schools, the agency found that schools more frequently employ lower-cost strategies such as inspecting and validating existing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and opening doors or windows rather than implementing more resource-intensive strategies. According to the National School COVID-19 Prevention Study, a survey that provides a nationally representative sample of kindergarten through grade 12 (K–12) public schools in the United States, only 38.5 percent of schools have replaced or upgraded their HVAC systems since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even smaller proportions of schools reported the use of high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems in classrooms (28.2 percent) or areas where students eat (29.8 percent); the study found that these were the strategies least frequently reported among K–12 schools. As improved ventilation can reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and other infectious diseases in schools, the report urges public health professionals to support schools’ implementation of resource-intensive strategies to improve ventilation and IAQ.

CDC’s analysis of the survey found that the use of ventilation strategies in schools differed based on location and poverty level. For example, schools located in cities or suburbs were more likely than rural schools to use portable HEPA filtration systems in classrooms. And mid-poverty schools—those with one-quarter to three-quarters of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals—were less likely than higher-poverty-level schools to have replaced or upgraded their HVAC systems, according to the report. CDC found that rural and mid-poverty schools were the least likely to have used resource-intensive ventilation strategies. Researchers posit that one reason mid-poverty schools may be less likely to implement such strategies is that they may have less experience in accessing and using federal funds than higher poverty schools. The report urges public health professionals and others to focus support on schools like these to help facilitate equitable implementation of ventilation strategies requiring more resources.

“Public health professionals and funding agencies can support state and local education agencies and school districts by raising awareness about funding sources and ensuring their equitable distribution,” the report states. “Supplemental training and technical assistance can help schools identify and access applicable funding and understand what types of strategies can improve ventilation.”

The full report can be found in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Related: A recent SynergistNOW blog post authored by Ryanna Quazi, AIHA’s advocacy associate, focuses on ventilation and IAQ in schools.