Updated October 30, 2020 - 8:58 am
New air purification systems that neutralize the coronavirus are coming to Clark County School District nurses’ offices and isolation rooms as part of the district’s efforts to ready campuses for reopening.
Bipolar ionization systems will be installed in the ducts of about 850 rooms in the district that may hold students who are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 at a total cost of $1.7 million.
The systems work by emitting positive and negative ions that attach to pathogens in the air such as SARS-CoV-2 and effectively disable them by removing a hydrogen molecule, said Matt Lisiewski of mechanical equipment company Norman S. Wright. The virus then can’t multiply and won’t be reintroduced to the air.
“It’s cost-effective, proven and deployed in the White House, Air Force One and other federal buildings,” Lisiewski said of the systems.
While ions are present in everyday air, the devices boost the number exponentially: At a media event Thursday, a control room at Roundy Elementary School was shown to have around 1,000 ions in the air, while a room with the purification system installed had 36,000.
Another upshot of the systems is that the ions make particles bigger, Lisiewski said, meaning a standard air filter will capture more of them.
New air filters
District facilities chief Jeff Wagner said the district is installing MERV 13 air filters — a fine-particulate air filter used in hospitals — in all campus heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems that can handle them. Older HVAC systems are getting the highest-graded filter possible, he said, like MERV 8 filters.
Wagner emphasized that the ionization systems are meant to act in tandem with all the other mitigation efforts the district is putting in place, such as social distancing and limiting classroom capacity, enforcing mask-wearing and changing out air filters.
“There is no silver bullet to this pandemic,” he said.
Rooms for medically fragile students will also have the systems, as will as the entirety of Miller School, which serves students in special education, Wagner said. To install a $2,000 ionization unit in each of the district’s 19,000 classrooms would cost at least $38 million, Wagner said — a price compounded by differences in HVAC systems.
Installation began two weeks ago and is expected to be complete in December, according to Wagner. The systems depend on the HVAC system to push out ions.
On the facilities side, Wagner said the district is also prioritizing replacing carpets, which also have an impact on air quality.
Asked about the feasibility of holding classes outside, Wagner said the district has discussed all its options, including outdoor learning, but that it was ultimately deemed not conducive to all classes.
Jara backs measures
Superintendent Jesus Jara said he’s confident in the measures the district is taking despite challenges at some schools such as the age of the buildings or classroom windows that don’t open to allow for air circulation. (The Centers for Disease Control recommends opening windows if possible to allow for natural ventilation, as well as other measures such as increasing air filtration and total airflow to occupied spaces.)
Schools in the Northeast are facing air circulation challenges as the weather turns cold, Jara said, adding that he ultimately believes the federal government will have to help urban school districts with facilities funding to allow for a safe return to buildings.
There is no timeline on returning CCSD students to schools, but a vote on a plan to do so is expected at the Nov. 12 school board meeting.
“When the time comes, we’re going to start slow,” Jara said. “We’re never going to cut corners on safety,but we have to address the academic loss and the mental health.”