TAMPA, Fla. — Kids are headed back to school in just a matter of days across Tampa Bay. While districts and the state debate over mask mandates in schools, experts are examining what other methods can protect kids from coronavirus in classrooms.
The rapidly spreading Delta variant of COVID-19 is affecting more children, so many of you may be worried about the risks of your child contracting the virus at school. Epidemiologists and virologists have long stated that ventilation and bringing fresh air into classrooms will be key in slowing the spread from student to student.
"Ventilation is really important in terms of any infectious respiratory disease, anything that spreads through droplets," explained virologist Dr. Michael Teng from USF Health.
We wanted to find out if any of our local Tampa Bay area school districts are making major changes to their ventilation systems.
No district in the Tampa Bay area is making a complete overhaul to its ventilation system, because these changes are expensive and take a lot of time to rework, especially in older schools.
Pinellas, Polk and Hillsborough schools are all using new high-efficiency particulate air filters, also known as HEPA filters.
Hillsborough County Schools has an air particulate filter in each school but recently added filters to the following schools over the summer when air conditioners were replaced: Adams, Bevis, Eisenhower, Franklin, Gibsonton, LaVoy, Leto, Newsome, Robinson Elementary, Valrico, Webb, Westchase, Young, Pride Elementary, Memorial Middle School and Plant High School.
Pinellas County has plans to use funding from the "American Rescue Plan" to buy needlepoint bipolar ionization devices which are add-ons to existing systems that can kill germs.
Polk County schools are buying more air scrubbers with the goal of putting one in every classroom.
A spokesperson from the Sarasota County school district says, "HVAC equipment will run on extended schedules to flush building spaces with fresh air prior to occupancy. We will also make adjustments to maximize the amount of outdoor air circulated through the systems on a continual basis."
Dr. Teng says the biggest layer of protection will come from vaccination and urges any eligible child over the age of 12 to get the vaccine.