The task of minimising Covid-19 transmission in schools while allowing for ongoing in-person education has been a contentious issue in the US since the beginning of the pandemic. Federal, state, and local policies have sought to strike a balance between these goals through specialised educational plans, social distancing protocols, and modifications to the physical environment within schools. As part of an ongoing study into such strategies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published their findings on public K–12 schools’ preferred ventilation strategies as part of their wider Covid-19 protocols. If these strategies are implemented in a significant proportion of US schools, GlobalData epidemiologists predict a lower incidence of Covid-19 in school-age children, as well as a modest reduction in the adult population given heightened levels of protection for school faculty members and parents.

The CDC based its data on the National School Covid-19 Prevention Study (NSCPS), a longitudinal study aimed at understanding risk mitigation strategies in 1,602 K–12 schools throughout the country. The study, which was launched in 2021, draws on data from web-based questionnaires aimed toward school administrators. The study analysed the respondents’ use of ventilation strategies (such as HVAC system modifications, opening doors and windows, higher use of outdoor activities, and HEPA filtration systems in classrooms and cafeterias) in 420 schools between February and March of the 2021–22 academic year. Schools were divided into low, middle, and high poverty levels, as well as urban, suburban, town, and rural locales.

The most common strategies were the relocation of activities to outdoor settings, the inspection and maintenance of HVAC systems, and opening of doors and windows, all of which were used in over 67% of schools. By contrast, only 28.2% installed portable HEPA filtration systems in classrooms. While schools in non-urban locales reported higher use of open windows and doors than those in cities, those in urban locales relied more on HEPA filtration systems in classrooms and high-risk areas. School poverty level was less determinative of most ventilation strategies given districts’ access to federal funding for Covid-19 risk mitigation. The main exception to this pattern was the opening of doors and windows, which were utilised with greater frequency among low poverty schools.

The authors suggest that this trend may correlate with levels of safety in the schools’ surrounding environments. Although the analysis does not lead the CDC to recommend one ventilation strategy over another, it does stress the need for continued, scalable use of ventilation in schools. Given that much of America’s Covid-19 funding and infrastructure has been scaled back, the report urges state and local bodies to provide material and logistical support for schools attempting to improve ventilation.

According to GlobalData epidemiologists, there are currently 30,219 new daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US as of 19 June 2022. The integration of ventilation systems as suggested by the CDC would likely curb the number of infections among children and adolescents by reducing the likelihood of transmission. While much Covid-19 incidence is often contingent on wider public health policies and the prominence of certain variants, the strategies described are general in nature, and are recommended practices for the prevention of many other transmissible respiratory illnesses.

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