How schools can improve indoor air quality

How schools can improve indoor air quality

Throughout the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the top focus for schools has been protecting the health and safety of school children and those educating them. However, with the Covid-19 virus boomeranging in a fierce fifth wave, there is increased pressure on schools to act, and fast.

This week, Victorian students are being urged to again wear masks in the classroom as the beginning of Term 3 coincides with a massive spike in the number of Covid-19 cases across the state.

Schools in Western Australia and NSW are also being asked to be extra vigilant and ensure their staff and students are adequately protected from a potential surge in cases like the one Victoria is currently enduring.

According to recent research out of Italy, Covid spread in classrooms could be cut by up to 80% with mechanical ventilation. The Australian Government has also confirmed viruses can spread faster in stale, compromised air.

According to the EPA, poor indoor air quality (IAQ) can also cause other symptoms such as asthma, fatigue, irritation, or headache.

For their part, some safety-focused organisations within the private sector are also helping schools safeguard their students and staff from the rapidly spreading virus.

“As schools gear up for Term 3, they do so with caution amid the latest rise in COVID-19 cases, coupled with typically winter surges of the common cold and influenza,” Stefanie Oakes, General Manager Services APAC at Honeywell told The Educator.

“The pandemic has caused many schools to permanently rethink how their facilities operate, with greater consideration placed on indoor air quality and willingness to invest in new healthy buildings measures.”

Oakes said administrators and teachers first and foremost want to keep classrooms open, and government guidelines explain there are measures they can take to improve IAQ in school buildings.

“Honeywell is working with schools around the world, including in Australia, to help create healthier learning environments,” she said.

“This starts with sensing what is in the air – using advanced indoor air quality sensing, schools can monitor a number of factors, including: particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOC), CO2, temperature and humidity.”

IAQ sensors monitor these factors and help inform necessary adjustments to meet recommended parameters.

Research from the CDC found incidence of COVID-19 was 35% lower in schools that regularly opened windows and doors or uses fans to ventilate.

“Our IAQ sensors help administrators and facility managers know when to adjust system parameters to optimize environments.”

Another organisation in this space, Thinxtra, is helping more than 3,000 classrooms across Australia create healthier and safer settings for students and teachers.

In partnership with indoor air quality technology experts, the company provides solutions that allow schools and child care centres to monitor carbon dioxide levels, humidity, temperature and other factors which serve as indicators of the transmission risk of airborne viruses, including COVID-19 variants.

“Although schools have come to understand the importance of ventilating indoor spaces, we give them remote access to easy-to-read data from all sensors, making actual conditions transparent, and informing the best course of action to take,” Nicholas Lambrou, CEO of Thinxtra, told The Educator.

“The information is transmitted to a dashboard in regular intervals or automatically once thresholds are met over our dedicated 0G Network.”

One such example, says Lambrou, is The Gap Cubbyhouse Montessori, a child care centre in Brisbane.

“After lockdowns lifted, the centre installed battery-powered, Internet-connected devices that measure carbon dioxide and other factors,” he said.

“If thresholds are exceeded, automated alerts ensure the right actions are taken to reduce risk.”