They’ve used physical distancing. They’ve followed strict cleaning and contract tracing protocols. They’ve tried masks.
And now, many Stark County-area schools are upgrading their air ventilation systems to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus and other harmful or noxious air pollutants.
A survey of Stark County-area public school districts shows that at least a dozen districts have upgraded their air ventilation systems in at least one of their buildings since 2020 or are planning to do so this spring and summer. Money sent to school districts to help them with COVID-19 mitigation strategies, known as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, has covered the cost of nearly all of the projects.
A majority of the school districts have turned to a new technology, called bipolar ionization, that seeks to neutralize airborne viruses using equipment that can be attached to a school’s existing air ventilation system.
Other school districts are installing HVAC systems for the first time, upgrading the filters in their existing air distribution systems or have invested in HALO sensors, which can monitor volatile organic compounds that officials believe also can be used to help control vaping and nicotine use by students.
“Our priority has always been to do everything within our power to provide the safest environment in all of our buildings,” said Plain Local Superintendent Brent May, whose district finished installing bipolar ionization units in its nine school buildings, central office and bus garage at the end of January. “The pandemic has presented different challenges, but our priority remains the same, this (bipolar ionization) project is another step in making our buildings as safe as possible.”
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Plain’s upgrade comes as the Ohio Department of Health has eased its contact tracing and quarantine protocols for schools.
School districts are no longer required to notify families if their child had been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and students can still attend school even if they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 as long as they wear a mask and show no symptoms.
While schools still are cleaning and keeping students spaced at least 3 feet apart, most Stark County schools also have dropped their indoor mask mandates. Only Canton City and Alliance school districts require masks while inside buildings. Masks are still required on school buses due to a federal transportation order.
What’s bipolar ionization?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Ohio Department of Health have recommended that educational facilities consider ventilation system upgrades to increase the delivery of clean air and dilute potential contaminates. But the agencies don’t endorse a specific type of upgrade nor do they recommend or oppose any manufacturer or product, leaving school district leaders to explore what works best for …….