Healthy Indoor Environments in Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond
The EPA Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Tools for Schools Program helps support stakeholders who are working to ensure that schools are healthy places to learn and work. The Program, while utilizing the latest science, provides customizable resources and guidance, hosts web-based training webinars, and coordinates with other federal agencies, among other activities, to help schools provide healthy indoor environments.
This page contains links to resources and guidance from federal agencies about indoor air considerations for schools during COVID-19 and for school reopening, as well as IAQ Tools for Schools resources to help create, maintain, and improve healthy learning environments beyond the pandemic.
On this page:
- Guidance from EPA and Other Federal Agencies on Schools and COVID-19
- Strategies for Maintaining Healthy Indoor Environments in Schools
- Establish an IAQ Management Program
- Perform Routine HVAC Systems Maintenance
- Develop a Communications Plan
- Train and Educate Staff Members
EPA’s coronavirus web area is EPA’s main resource for guidance, resources, and frequently asked questions on COVID-19, as well as links to important information on COVID-19 from other federal agencies. The web area includes a variety of indoor air topics that will be helpful for school reopening, including:
- Indoor Air and Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- Ventilation and Coronavirus (COVID-19);
- Air Cleaners, HVAC Filters and Coronavirus (COVID-19);
- Implementing a Layered Approach to Address COVID-19 in Public Indoor Spaces; and
- Frequent Questions about Indoor Air and Coronavirus (COVID-19).
EPA also has a factsheet from April 2021 on cleaning and disinfecting best practices and tips you can use during the COVID-19 pandemic, based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance that the risk of catching COVID-19 by touching a contaminated surface is considered to be low.
- Guidance for Schools and Child Care Programs
- K-12 School Operational Strategy
- K-12 Schools COVID-19 Mitigation Toolkit
- Ventilation in Schools and Childcare Programs
- Ventilation in Buildings
Department of Education Guidance
Whether your school is open already or is reopening soon, IAQ is an important part of maintaining healthy indoor environments in schools, during the pandemic and beyond. The first step for healthy IAQ in schools is to establish an IAQ management program. Find helpful resources below, or check out the webpages on why IAQ is important in schools and how to take action to improve IAQ in schools to get started today.
To ensure continuous healthy indoor environments long-term, use the following tools to implement IAQ and ventilation improvements as part of a comprehensive IAQ management program.
- Framework for Effective School IAQ Management - Use the Framework to begin developing an IAQ management program in your school, communicating your plans, and securing buy-in from your school community. Find technical solutions to common IAQ issues, key drivers for effective IAQ management, and case studies from school districts that have successfully implemented IAQ management programs.
- IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit - Use the Action Kit to carry out practical planning for improving IAQ at little- or no-cost with straightforward activities and in-house staff. The Action Kit provides best practices, industry guidelines, sample policies, and a sample IAQ management program.
- IAQ Tools for Schools Preventive Maintenance Guidance Documents - Prevent IAQ issues before they happen! Use the Preventative Maintenance Guidance to develop an IAQ preventative maintenance plan as part of your IAQ management program. Find resources for making the case for preventative maintenance and gaining buy-in from your school community, as well as detailed guidance on walkthroughs and assessments of your facilities and how to address common IAQ issues.
The resources below also include important information about strategies for maintaining healthy indoor environments in schools.
1. Ensure school HVAC systems are operating properly with outdoor ventilation maintained at or above design minimum values. During an outbreak of respiratory infections, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, additional ventilation guidance applies.
2. Determine whether HVAC systems comply with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard 62.1 ventilation requirements at the system level and in the breathing zones of all occupied spaces.
- Conduct an HVAC assessment to evaluate the condition of the existing HVAC system components and/or unit ventilation equipment;
- Ensure there is a scheduled inspection and maintenance program for HVAC systems to allow for repair, modification, or replacement of equipment
- Deactivate/turn off demand-controlled ventilation (DCV) controls (i.e., thermostats or central controls) that reduce air supply or exhaust for any reason (e.g. occupancy or temperature) so that air supply will remain maximized and constant while the building is occupied;
- Assess and service your system to ensure it is capable of bringing in more outdoor air; and
- Consider other means of bringing in outdoor air, such as opening windows and using window fans, if weather and outdoor air quality permit and when HVAC adjustments are not possible or do not bring in enough outdoor air.
3. Employ filtration and air cleaning strategies to further improve IAQ. It’s important to use these strategies in conjunction with source control strategies and adequate ventilation rates, as air cleaning alone may not always be sufficient or cost-effective to achieve good IAQ.
- HVAC Filters: Increase filter efficiencies in existing HVAC systems (use the highest Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value [MERV] rating possible according to equipment specifications). If possible, increase the level of the air filter to MERV-13 or higher. In some cases, minimal upgrades to existing systems can make it possible to use more efficient filters. Make sure the filters are sized, installed and replaced according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Air Cleaners: Consider using portable air cleaners as a supplemental filtration strategy. This is especially worthwhile when other ventilation and filtration measures are not feasible or more targeted filtration is needed (e.g., in a nurse’s office). Choose portable air cleaners appropriately sized for the spaces they will service and replace filters according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
NOTE: Do not use air cleaners that intentionally generate ozone in occupied spaces or that do not meet state regulations or industry standards for ozone generation.
1. Develop a communications plan with a clear process for addressing occupant concerns.
2. Share your IAQ preventive maintenance program’s intent, activities, results, and next steps with your entire school community.
3. Make the case for IAQ management and/or IAQ improvements by crafting a pitch or value proposition of the benefits of IAQ improvements to gain buy-in.
- Use the IAQ Tools for Schools Value Proposition Worksheet as a template or starting point.
The IAQ Tools for Schools Program hosts web-based trainings that provide school district staff across the country with the knowledge needed to start, improve or sustain an IAQ management program in their school or school district. Find more information about the on-demand IAQ Tools for Schools Webinars below.
- IAQ Master Class Professional Training Webinar Series – This series contains ten hour-long technical, web-based trainings designed to provide school district staff with the knowledge and tools they need to execute an IAQ management program.
- IAQ Knowledge-to-Action Professional Training Webinar Series – This series contains sixteen hour-long technical, web-based trainings that demonstrate how the knowledge gained in the IAQ Master Class Professional Training Webinar Series can be translated into actionable steps to continue improving IAQ within your school district.
- Healthy Indoor Environments in Schools Webinar Series – This webinar series showcases how schools can combine IAQ best practices with virus mitigation strategies to maintain healthy learning environments.