Safe School-Reopening Strategies Also Include Physical Envir

|Aug 3|magazine10 min read

ANDOVER, Minn., Aug. 3, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Public health experts agree that opening safely isn't just about managing personal protection guidelines; it's also about providing a healthy and safe physical environment within the school building. So while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), education leaders and communities finalize safe reopening guidelines for students, teachers and staff; school districts across the country are focusing on the "health" of school buildings and academic facilities. 

According to Bruce Bomier, MPH, public health professional and board chair of Environmental Resource Council, a nonprofit that has been has been advising schools and other social and physical environments on health and safe-building procedures for almost 50 years, "The problem is, with constant heavy exposure burdens, the virus may represent a risk if the a school building's environment is unhealthy. Having worked with hundreds of school properties regarding health concerns, we believe it is critical that reopening guidelines take air exchange and potential dilution of virus exposures into consideration.  Our natural biologic defensive and immune systems are simply more effective when potential airborne toxins are diluted through an environment's sensitive controls."

While it is important for school districts to take direction from local, state and federal public health authorities, following are tips to help keep school buildings healthy and reduce COVID-19 risk:

1.    Ventilation
Quality ventilation can reduce and often prevent droplets from spreading airborne. Servicing unit ventilators, sensitive adjustments to air filtering, structured cleaning of diffusers, and plans to respond to makeup air and air exchange as influenced by occupant density, must be incorporated into operational guidelines. Special consideration should be directed toward "factory styled," enclosed schools constructed post-World War II with limited air exchange. Fortunately, many have been renovated, but not all.

2.  Air Quality
Scheduled air-quality testing is important, especially with a focus on dilution ratios in highly occupied areas. This involves more than having the routine HVAC mechanical engineer work to model pre-COVID-19 standards; rather, the air-quality standards must be oriented to public health -- always factoring in use and density patterns, along with air exchange and filtration considerations. 

3.  Lighting
There is significant research indicating that UV lighting may "break down" COVID-19, inhibiting its ability to contaminate. New technologies may allow for higher occupation of areas that have been exposed to ultraviolet lighting. While this option is still being studied, there is clear but preliminary meta-research indicating that the introduction of several variations of UV lighting will safeguard an enclosed environment. In general, improved lighting has been found important in the educational process in terms of both illumination and psychological effects. When possible, arrange classrooms to capture direct light from windows.  In addition, use blue-enriched lighting in rooms for areas that don't have windows.

4.  Sanitization
Cleaning and sanitizing are different activities. Cleaning is primarily designed to remove food, dirt, human dander and other particles often found on surfaces in high-population density areas. Cleaning reduces bacteria, rendering the areas healthier. Sanitizing is focused on a level and separate type of hygiene that reduces virus-related disease. EPA- approved disinfectants will keep often-touched, smooth surfaces safer for prescribed periods of time -- significantly reducing the potential for hand-to-mouth contact and consequent virus-related disease. Soft surfaces, such as carpets, curtains and some furniture, should also be cleaned with regularity.  However, next to airborne exposures, smooth surfaces in common areas, such as doorknobs, restroom areas and railings, represent the greatest possibility of virus transmission and require extra sanitization.

"We must keep what's touched and inhaled as free as possible from potential exposure to COVID-19, helping our natural protective and immune systems to do their jobs in less dangerous environments. In fact, we nicknamed our building hygiene-oriented recommendations 'an environmental mask for school buildings'," shared Bomier.

Additional COVID-19 resources and technical assistance are available for school districts by contacting Environmental Resource Council at ENVRC.org.

 

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SOURCE Environmental Resource Council