How To Mitigate Airborne Transmission In School Classrooms

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The very air we breathe gives us life but also harbors many harmful elements. Air pollution poses a serious threat to our health worldwide and affects nearly every organ in the human body.

Studies show that within a span of a few weeks, reducing air contaminants and particulates in the air children are exposed to significantly decreases respiratory problems, such as shortness of breath, cough, phlegm, and sore throat. This huge impact on health further leads to a substantial decline in school absenteeism, clinic visits, and hospitalizations among children.

Different Coping Mechanisms To Air Pollution

Adults and children cope differently when it comes to inhaling polluted air. The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Environmental Health cited that 80% of children’s alveoli, which are the tiny air sacs where the transfer of oxygen to the blood takes place, are not fully grown until they become adults.

According to UNICEF, “Children are more susceptible than adults to both indoor and outdoor air pollution as their lungs, brains and immune systems are still developing and their respiratory tracts are more permeable. Young children also breathe faster than adults and take in more air relative to their body weight.”

Children are also more active outdoors than adults. They are outside for longer periods increasing their vulnerability to inhaling polluted outdoor air. Combining these anatomical and environmental factors, children have more cases of respiratory infections compared to adults and have a higher susceptibility to air pollution.

Dangers Of Airborne Transmission In Classrooms

Viruses, such as the COVID-19, reproduce in the upper and lower respiratory tracts and are emitted in the air when an infected person breathes, talks, coughs, or sneezes. 

School classrooms are places with a lot of talking and many children gathering in a confined space. More people mean more opportunities for aerosolized microdroplets to accumulate if the ventilation is poor. 

In addition, old school buildings release harmful allergens and toxic fumes from paints, tiles, mold, and specific areas that have not been cleaned for years. Air irritants coming from old furniture, carpeting, and even pet dander from classroom pets can trigger allergies or asthma in children.

Poor ventilation is a problem especially in classrooms without any windows. Classrooms are loaded with contaminants and particulates that children can inhale and cause them to get sick. Air irritants coming from old furniture, carpeting, and even pet dander from classroom pets are dangerous to children who have allergies or asthma.

Addressing Classroom Ventilation Issues

Establishing good airflow can be achieved by costly investments in infrastructures, but it can also be solved by utilizing free and inexpensive methods. If you are looking for simple ways to keep children safe and maintain good air quality in school classrooms, consider the following suggestions.

Open the doors and windows

One of the most cost-effective solutions in dealing with bad indoor air is opening the doors and windows. The process is utterly simple and obvious; opening doors and windows gets rid of stale air and brings in a new and fresh breeze.

Having good airflow in classrooms helps reduce aerosolized droplet concentration that carries germs and bacteria. Other benefits include hot air removal, and keeping the body cool by speeding up the evaporation of sweat. Opening the doors and windows also helps lower electricity costs compared to using air conditioning, especially in the summer.

The effectiveness of air circulation inside classrooms is often taken for granted. So, whenever the climate and classroom architecture allow for it, maximize natural air flow.

Install traditional fans or exhaust fans

If the classroom does not have any windows, your best alternative is using traditional electric fans. This time-honored appliance blows and moves air to improve indoor ventilation.

Consider installing an exhaust fan that pulls air and moisture out, so humid, contaminated air is thrust through the vent and exits the classroom. This highly efficient method not only makes students feel cool and comfortable but also helps minimize energy usage.

Get an air purifier with a HEPA filter

HEPA air purifiers pull polluted air in and run it through a series of filters to remove allergens and
viruses. This air filtration system has a built-in fan and motor that pushes clean, breathable air back into
the classroom. Experts recommend running an air purifier 24/7 to harness its full potential.

A High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter captures particulates as small as 0.3 microns and cleans
99.7% of allergens that pass through it. There are also improved HEPA filters that can trap ultrafine
particles as small as 0.1 microns.

Placing a portable HEPA air purifier inside classrooms gets rid of dust and secondhand smoke, and offers
many benefits to keep children safe and healthy. Before buying one, do your research first and choose
the best air purifier that fits your needs and budget.

Alternative Health Care Tips for Classrooms

Set-up sanitation stations

As the saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure.” One of the simplest ways of avoiding the spread of bacteria and viruses inside classrooms is setting up sanitation stations. Students can bathe their hands in sanitizer before entering the room to kill harmful microorganisms that cause diseases and infections. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers eliminate a broad spectrum of bacteria and viruses. Healthcare professionals also recommend washing with soap and water for a more thorough cleaning. 

Encourage eating healthy foods

Fruits and vegetables, like carrots, green beans, oranges, and strawberries, contain carotenoids, which are phytonutrients that effectively boost the immune system. Research shows that phytonutrients increase the production of white blood cells and antibodies — the body’s natural defense against viral infections. Children should have five servings of fruits and veggies a day; try healthy snack suggestions, such as yogurt with mixed berries, apple slices, and more.

Excellent ventilation and air quality are crucial in schools to help create an environment that is comfortable and conducive for learning, and prevents the spread of viral infections and diseases. Improved indoor air quality is also connected to other health aspects, including a child’s lung development, and the mental well-being not just of children but of everyone.

Jephonie Villegas is a full time writer. Before she pursued her passion for writing, she got a bachelor’s degree in nursing and was an English teacher to foreign students.