Thursday, October 22, 2020

Local News

More Details Released on R4 Schools Air Quality Measures During COVID

As temperatures drop this fall, limiting the opportunities for outdoor class time and opening windows for fresh air, the Region 4 school district is providing more information on its safety protocols for indoor air quality during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Superintendent of Schools Brian White reported at a Sept. 10 joint Board of Education (BOE) meeting that all facilities in the district adhere to the Connecticut Department of Public Health’s guidance for school systems on “the operation of central and non-central ventilation systems.”

Although there are different heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in each of the five school buildings in the district, several measures have been taken at all schools, according to White.

Prior to reopening school, all HVAC systems were serviced along with the installation of new filters. The ventilation systems were also operated at full capacity the week before school started in August.

Other ongoing measures include flushing the air inside buildings for the required amount of time prior to occupancy and after occupancy, running the bathroom exhaust all day for seven days a week, and adding supplemental filtration systems to isolation rooms used for students exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, among other protocols.

The district, which reopened using a hybrid model in which half of the student body attends school in person at one time, is planning a return to full in-person classes after Oct. 12.

Asked by the Courier as to whether the HVAC systems would be able to adequately prevent widespread transmission of the virus when schools are at full capacity, White said that in addition to following the guidance from the state, “we have in place in each of our buildings mitigation strategies including the use of masks by all individuals during the school day and adhering to social distancing guidelines.”

The use of face masks, social distancing, hand washing, cleaning, and disinfection, among other actions, when done together, can help lower the risk of spreading COVID-19, according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The virus can also potentially spread by airborne particles of the virus, particularly in indoor environments, beyond the recommended six-foot social distancing recommendations, according to the United State Environmental Protection Agency.

This means that a building’s HVAC system, along with its filters, can have a significant impact on preventing spread of the virus.

“The districts are in the process of installing [Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value or] MERV-13-rated air filters in each [of] our buildings where the HVAC systems support this enhancement,” said White in correspondence with the Courier. “For buildings and systems that cannot accept MERV 13, those filters are being replaced more frequently to ensure high performance in those systems.”

The CDC has recommended using MERV 13 filters in schools, which the agency considers as being most effective in capturing airborne particles of the COVID-19 virus.

Deep River BOE Vice Chair Miriam Morrissey asked White about the number of air changes per hour, or ACH, in the rooms of school buildings in the district at a special meeting of the joint BOE on Sept. 3. In addition to the efficiencies of air filters, the amount of time for infectious particles of the virus to leave a classroom is an important consideration.

White reported the air turnover rate is six times per hour in R4 buildings (the middle and high schools) but said that he did not have this information for the elementary school buildings at that time.

He said that he would be willing to provide additional information on the district’s distinct HVAC and filtration systems at individual school board meetings.

“I think that would be great because I know a lot of the public wants to know and the more we find out about this disease, we know the fresher air you have, the better,” said Morrissey.

At the same meeting, White said that although the R4 system is working as it should, there is room for improvements.

“We have had a proposal in R4 of a potential upgrade to our systems,” said White. “There are costs associated with it. It would not be a budgeted expense for this year, but it’s something that we’re exploring, whether we accomplish it this year, or in the scope of next year’s budget preparations. It is something I’ll be recommending that the R4 board consider.”


Elizabeth Reinhart covers news for Chester, Deep River, and Essex for Zip06. Email Elizabeth at e.reinhart@shorepublishing.com.

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