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In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, worried building occupants voiced concerns about the safety of their workspaces. They peppered maintenance and engineering managers with a raft of questions about their facilities’ sanitizing practices. While occupants, managers and the general public remain concerned about housekeeping measures to control the spread of the coronavirus, increasingly they are turning their attention to the role HVAC systems play. Recent developments in New York City schools underscore the reasons behind these concerns.
As students and teachers prepare to resume in-person classes on Sept. 21, New York City Department of Education (DOE) inspectors say 21 schools housed in 10 buildings in the city are unfit for teachers to return to due to poor ventilation, according to ABC 7. The department is calling the delay temporary for affected teachers, who cannot return to their buildings as the city works to make the needed repairs.
The teachers union says the discovery was made during union-required inspections and that the 10 buildings – out of a total of 1,500 school buildings in the city – are being shut down indefinitely. The DOE says it will complete repairs on the affected buildings before in-person learning starts. City officials say if repairs are not possible, they will look for alternative spaces.
In addition to repairs, the Division of School Facilities is taking these steps to improve air circulation:
• installing portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in rooms
• flushing air two hours before and after occupation
• upgrading MERV-8 air filters to MERV-13 filters where appropriate.
Dan Hounsell is editor of Facility Maintenance Decisions.