An editorial from Hearst Connecticut Media:
Two years into the COVID pandemic, with millions of dollars of federal money pouring into state and local budgets, there is no reason why air quality should not be a top priority for every classroom in Connecticut. Especially with mask mandates on the way out, clean air in schools should be top of mind in every district. The state has been slow to make that happen, but appears to be taking steps to move faster. Everyone involved needs to ensure the issue doesn’t get overlooked.
In announcing its budget priorities earlier this month, the Lamont administration pledged $90 million to help pay for mechanical upgrades to improve air quality in schools across the state. This follows an earlier stance that local districts should be able to handle the changes themselves, but the issue is too important to leave to chance.
Much has changed in our understanding of how COVID spreads, as evidenced by those early months in 2020 when people were washing their groceries and offices were closed for what officials deemed “deep cleaning.” That all proved to be so much wasted time. Cleaning is fine, but since the coronavirus doesn’t appear to live on surfaces, it doesn’t solve the problem of transmission.
Instead, air quality is key. That’s why, counterintuitively, an airplane in flight can be among the safest places around because air is cleaned and recirculated through the cabin constantly. The problems arise in enclosed spaces when the air does not recirculate.
For that reason, it’s disheartening to hear officials in some public spaces, including schools, say mask mandates aren’t needed anymore, but that surface cleaning will help reduce the risk. That’s not taking on the problem as it exists. Instead, we need technology to purify the air we breathe, and in schools that can date back decades (or, in the cities, more than a century). That means new machines, which cost money.
Despite the funding that has been made available via federal coronavirus spending, an investigation by Connecticut Public Radio recently found that a third of schools in the state didn’t have enough money to pay for better air quality, and many did not have the capacity to measure the problem. This shows a need for state action.
As much as we’ve learned about COVID in the past two years, there is of course much that remains uncertain. But even as our understanding grows, there is nothing harmful about technology to improve air quality in schools, and in fact it should be considered a priority even in the absence of a pandemic.
It’s an unfortunate feature of underfunded districts that poor air quality leads to increased illness for students and staff, which means lost learning time and additional strain on the system. This is money well spent under any circumstances.
But the need is immediate. Even as mask mandates fade and everyone looks for a return to normalcy, the danger of another COVID wave is real. It is essential to ensure that people are as protected as they can be, and that schools remain open.
Ensuring that students have clean air to breathe must be a top priority this session.