What the White House is saying about Indoor Air Quality...
The American Rescue Plan
Federal funds and resources are available to support improvements in ventilation, filtration, and clean indoor air – the American Rescue Plan has $122 billion for schools and $350 billion for state, local, and Tribal governments, which can support upgrades to their local businesses, nonprofits, community centers, and other commercial and public establishments.
The Biden-Harris Administration identified improved indoor air quality as an important tool to fight the spread of airborne diseases in the American Pandemic Preparedness Plan last September – and the National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan prioritized it again earlier this month. A number of Federal departments and agencies – including the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) – have worked together to launch the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, a call to action for anyone who manages or maintains a building. As part of the launch, the Environmental Protection Agency released a practical guide for building managers, contractors, homeowners, and business owners to create an action plan for cleaner indoor air.
Here are the basics:
- Ventilation: Bringing in clean outdoor air is key. Indoor air moves less than outdoor air, so virus particles hang in the air in greater concentrations. Ventilation strategies that bring in more outdoor air can disperse viral particles and lower the risk of people inhaling them or getting infected through their eyes, nose, or mouth. Fans and HVAC systems can help make open windows more effective by pulling in clean outdoor air, and can send clean air into rooms without windows or good ventilation. New buildings are often constructed to seal air in for energy efficiency, so their HVAC systems must be on or their windows opened to clear the air. Older buildings may be less well sealed, but have outdated air handling systems or lack them altogether. An HVAC expert can help with this; more resources are available here.
- Air filtration: Using high-quality air filters like HEPA or MERV-13 – connected to capable HVAC systems or portable air purifiers – to remove virus particles from indoor air is also important. Filtration is a great tool to supplement ventilation or to use if adequate ventilation isn’t possible – for example, if extreme temperatures, wildfire smoke, or outdoor pollution make you not want to open a window. And we need filtration equipment more than we might think: many schools, workplaces, hotels, and homes have windows that do not open at all. Many Americans and small businesses cannot afford major HVAC upgrades. While all of us can benefit, many Americans have health vulnerabilities and need the extra protection of having cleaner air. In all these cases, portable air cleaning devices with powerful fans – as powerful as a box fan you could buy at a store – can make a big difference in reducing virus particles in the air. HEPA filters, for instance, are at least 99.97% efficient at capturing human-generated viral particles associated with COVID-19.
- Air disinfection: By inactivating (“killing”) airborne virus through methods like ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) systems, we can add another layer of protection in indoor spaces. The latest technology in these UV lights is particularly useful in crowded areas with poor airflow, in healthcare settings with vulnerable populations (such as hospitals or nursing homes), or in areas like restaurants where people aren’t wearing masks because they’re eating and drinking.
Used along with layered prevention strategies recommended by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others, improving indoor air quality is a critical part of a plan to better protect us all.