The Education Department in the United States is preparing to open schools after a long gap and welcome students back to classes as the delta variant of the coronavirus that has disrupted lives and schedules all over the world is causing a major surge in cases of the covid-19 virus.
The education department has advised schools across the country to access funding and get federal aid specifically for educational institutions to improve ventilation and other sanitation needs in schools that can minimize infection.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that the Delta Variant of the virus has already begun to cause an increase in infections and in-hospital admissions. The effect of this fourth wave is perceptible all over the United States and many summer camps for students had to be called off. This turn of events is now raising questions of whether schools will be able to reopen as planned with physical learning five days a week.
Education Department Outlines Funding Options For Ventilation Upgrades
Kelley Lake Elementary School in Decatur in the state of Georgia is one such school that is planning to use federal financial assistance to improve air quality before welcoming its students back to classrooms. Kelley Lake Elementary School is one of the K 12 schools across the United States that will use the $122 billion from the federal coronavirus relief to improve indoor air quality as well as modify infrastructure for outdoor classes.
This relief funding is to be used for the repair and replacement of fans, filtration systems, HVAC (Heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems. Specific areas of use would be for maintenance, inspection and testing of existing systems including servicing of existing HVAC systems. A further improvement would be made by monitoring carbon dioxide levels, funding for additional heating or cooling needs. Another area of investment would be the purchase of equipment for more outdoor classes.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is confident that this step of protecting schools and institutions from the spread of coronavirus is the first step for the whole nation to re-emerge from this crisis. Secretary Cardona added that this is a step in the American Rescue plan for Schools and districts for them to be able to use improved ventilation facilities for a better environment for both study and work.
The Education Secretary will be visiting the Kelley Lake Elementary school which has become a sort of role model in the implementation of this grand rescue plan and inspect the envisaged improvement in the facilities so that it has the desired improved environment when students return.
Meanwhile, there is a report from the U.S, Government accountability office (GAO) that has studied the proposal and found that 36000 schools across the United States need HVAC updates. These include 54% of the public schools that need to update and even replace entire building systems that include ventilation systems.
The epidemic task force for Schools and universities along with the National Energy Management Institute (NEMI) have found the root cause of HVAC systems not being installed and even maintained by skilled staff. Christopher Ruch is Director of Training at the NEMI and has observed that if highly efficient air handling units are not installed, handled or maintained as per procedure, they waste energy and the dirty filters and coils, closed dampers, worn drive assemblies and nonfunctional condensate pans produce an environment that is actually detrimental for students.
With this scenario, Director Ruch of the NEMI wonders whether the funding will be enough.
Most students in the United States have had varying degrees of virtual learning as schools were closed for long periods during successive phases of lockdowns and will be waiting to return to classes with improved ventilation systems.