As colder months set in and increasing rates of COVID-19 infection make healthy indoor air a matter of global urgent priority once again, many schools are rushing to ensure their classroom environments are safe for students and staff alike.
Understanding COVID-19 Transmission & the Indoor Air Quality Connection
According to the EPA, coronavirus infection occurs mainly through airborne transmission. As a result, experts have established maintaining proper ventilation as a key factor in reducing COVID-19 transmission risk in classrooms. In particular, the UK government recommends the use of CO2 monitors in schools for identifying poorly ventilated classrooms, and subsequently reducing the risk of virus spread.
Education Centers & Parents Turn Attention to Air Quality
Gearing up for 2022, The US Department of Education has released new funds ($122 billion) to improve indoor ventilation and prevent COVID-19 virus transmission in schools, colleges, and universities. But America isn’t the only one taking action:
In Canada, the Clean Air For Schools Program, initiated as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, helped Ontario schools increase classroom ventilation by an average of 40%.
In Germany, the federal government has allocated €200 million to set up mobile air purifiers in daycare centers and schools.
In France, government recommendations to limit coronavirus transmission saw schools and nurseries equipping classrooms with CO2 sensors, which utilize indicator lights to alert staff of ventilation needs in real-time.
Government budgets and warnings regarding poor indoor air quality in classrooms as a conduit for higher COVID-19 transmission risks have secondary effects: increased air quality awareness among the public in general. Some parents are so worried about poor air quality in classrooms that they’re sneaking air quality monitors into their children’s backpacks to test classroom safety! (via New York Times).
We Already Know Poor Indoor Air Quality Impacts Health & Cognition
Poor indoor air quality presents broader health risks and potential longer-term impacts outside of immediate COVID-19 infection: For years scientists have warned us of the strong connection between children’s exposure to poor air quality and negative health/cognitive performance.
Scientists also predict increased cognitive risks as a result of CO2 levels indoors and specify the classroom impact in terms of potential cognitive impairment in particular: if CO2 emissions are left unmitigated, we may see a ~25% reduction in indoor basic decision-making ability by the year 2100.
The EPA warns PM10 and PM2.5 pollution can make children more likely to develop asthma and require hospitalization, and a 2021 study report says poor air quality exposure could put children at a greater risk of heart disease later in life and may cause DNA alterations that can be passed down to future generations.
Studies have also found higher pollen levels can mean children with allergy sensitivities perform worse in tests.
Environmental Analytics: The Next Generation of Indoor Air Management in Schools?
Products, services, and analytics platforms that integrate real-time environmental insights increasingly serve to equip schools with the tools they need to protect students and staff from harmful environmental events - in real-time and ahead of time.
For example, building management platforms like iSCAN by IES help schools monitor indoor CO2, temperature, humidity, and other environmental factors via connected sensors and to ensure adequate ventilation.
Classroom CO2 Levels Demonstrated via the iSCAN Platform
(Image originally featured on iesve.com)
Historical environmental data enables tracking daily, monthly, and yearly exposure averages, providing significant added value to schools by providing further peace of mind for parents, especially if their child suffers from chronic conditions.
Companion products like connected in-classroom dashboards can also serve to educate and engage children with animated actionable insights into the health and conditions of their indoor spaces.
Is Indoor Air Monitoring Enough?
Environmental monitoring is a fairly new idea for many schools and most of the solutions that exist today are geared towards monitoring the indoor environment alone through the use of sensors to reduce Covid-19 transmission risk.
As we’ve seen, poor indoor air quality exposure can present a number of health risks, and monitoring indoor spaces is one way to manage this.
However indoor air monitoring alone can fail to acknowledge the outdoor impact on the indoors, which can quickly leave building residents vulnerable to outdoor threats. For example, sudden environmental changes like wildfires, sudden dust storms, and high pollen days can dramatically worsen the conditions of classroom environments.
Ultimately, monitoring the indoor environment alone means action can only be taken after outdoor pollution has already entered the space. For this reason, we’re seeing an increased number of providers of connected systems, dashboards, and apps to schools enhance their existing solutions with comprehensive outdoor environmental insights.
The leading indoor air monitor brand, AirThings, helps schools ensure healthy learning environments by integrating outdoor environmental data within their dashboard, providing full visibility into air quality.
AirThings Dashboard Monitoring Indoor and Outdoor Conditions
(Image originally featured on airthings.com)
We predict this to be the beginning of a trend that makes a lot of sense: By alerting staff to sudden spikes in outdoor pollution or alerting of wildfire risk, teachers and school managers will be empowered to take action such as close windows (or open them if outdoor conditions are pleasant), or trigger HVAC and air purifier systems ahead of time - rather than wait for staff and students to feel the impact.
The Bottom Line
COVID-19 has raised classroom ventilation and indoor air quality to a position of top priority for many schools around the world. Simultaneously, awareness of the short and long-term health impacts of poor indoor air quality, in general, has dramatically increased as the pandemic lingers on.
As school managers seek to create healthier indoor spaces, environmental analytics and real-time insights have become transformative solutions for school environments. Going forward, we expect to see more and more of these solutions factor in outdoor environmental conditions alongside their existing indoor monitoring capabilities.