Open windows, new filters: How NJ schools are readying for in-person classes this fall.
When every New Jersey school reopens for on-site instruction this autumn, as expected, students and teachers will be walking into intentionally drafty buildings where windows are kept open and HVAC systems are constantly running to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
School officials throughout the state are already preparing their buildings to be at full capacity once again. Billions of dollars of federal relief money are flowing into New Jersey schools this year, and it can pay for everything from ensuring new filters in classroom vents to overhauling outdated heating and air conditioning systems to bring more outdoor air inside.
“We’re seeing this work being done across the U.S. but especially in the Northeast in New York and New Jersey, because they were hit early and hardest by COVID,” said Mark Davidson, a manager for air filter manufacturer Camfil, based in New Jersey.
The good news is that in-person learning has not appeared to be a major source of COVID-19 transmission so far, health officials say.
The bad news is that COVID-19 particles spread much more rapidly indoors. And the vast majority of schools haven’t been at full capacity since March 2020.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says most buildings, including schools, do not need a complete overhaul of their ventilation systems to be reoccupied. But recirculating indoor air and lacking proper filtration can’t continue.
“There is now good evidence that good ventilation reduces the risk of transmission when indoors,” said Stephanie Silvera, a professor of public health at Montclair State University. “Combining ventilation with masks and the new CDC guidelines on spacing will all be important in terms of getting schools reopened for as many students as possible.”
New Jersey will receive $3.9 billion in school funding this year from two major COVID relief bills passed by Congress.
Ventilation becomes top priority
State education officials did not know how much of that money will go toward ventilation projects at New Jersey’s 2,500 school buildings, which range from the newly constructed to some that are more than a century old. But in all parts of the state, work is planned, underway or completed.