School leaders encouraged to check HVAC systems to reduce COVID-19 spread

As Kansas schools reopen, district officials can take steps with their heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other contagious diseases, officials said Wednesday during KASB’s weekly “Lunch and Learn” Board Leadership Forum.

“There are no silver bullets,” in lessening the spread of viruses, said Devin Malone, business development manager at Willdan Group Inc. “But there are silver BBs,” he said.

The presentation by Willdan and P1 Group Inc., both preferred partners of KASB, aimed to help education leaders as they reopen school buildings that have been closed for five months due to the pandemic.

KASB Assistant Executive Director of Risk Management Rod Spangler said the forum would help schools “on how best to make your physical space as safe as possible.”

Malone noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said schools should take steps to improve ventilation in buildings in consultation with HVAC professionals. COVID-19 is spread mainly through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of persons nearby or can be transmitted from surfaces.

Malone said information on the best methods to remove virus droplets often changes and acknowledged that some school leaders may feel overwhelmed. But Malone outlined basic steps schools should take with their HVAC systems.

Those steps include:

Add mechanical ventilation if none is present;

Review ventilation systems to ensure they are working as designed;

Install bipolar ionization technology, which converts oxygen into charged atoms that deactivate viruses while also helping make viruses more easily caught in filters;

Keep ventilation systems running two hours before and after buildings are occupied and disable or modify demand controlled ventilation, an energy-saving system that reduces ventilation;

Invest in humidity systems since moisture can reduce the amount of viruses in the air and on surfaces;

Keep bathroom windows shut, exhaust fans onn and toilet seats closed before flushing.

“We can’t make buildings 100 percent safe but we can make buildings safer,” Malone said.

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