FSU and Leon County Schools using upgraded ventilation systems to combat COVID-19

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 6:35 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - There’s been vigorous debate over masks to protect students from COVID-19 in schools, but some are also upgrading their air filtration systems in hopes of reducing airborne spread.

A Kaiser Health News report found some are using unproven systems that could even be harmful.

Both Florida State University and Leon County Schools upgraded their ventilation systems when the pandemic began. This included getting higher efficiency filters.

The CDC recommends using the highest efficiency level possible without negatively affecting a building’s overall ventilation system.

FSU now uses MERV-13 ventilation filters, which meet the minimum efficiency recommended by the industry.

Leon County Schools use MERV-11 filters, which are not as effective but are the highest level the school’s ventilation system will allow.

“MERV-13 is a very, very dense filter, and if systems are not designed to be able to handle that, it restricts the amount of required airflow in the whole system for them to work properly and efficiently,” LCS Certified Building Official Rod McQueen said.

Leon County Schools also use a bipolar ionization technology called Phenomenal Aire, which generates ions that bond with particles to form larger clusters that the ventilation system can more easily filter.

“The 11s, they work very well, and actually with the technology of ionization, it does help create larger particles so the 11s work more efficiently, similar to a 13.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, bipolar ionization has the potential to generate ozone, which can irritate airways. But Leon County’s system meets EPA ozone standards.

The district has spent about $50,000 on filters and $175,000 on ionization technology, much of which was covered by federal pandemic relief funding.

FSU also utilized $3 million dollars of federal funding to purchase more than 7,000 air purifiers.

“We think that’s a priority,” FSU Associate VP for Facilities Dave Irvin said. “We think it’s something we absolutely need to do.”

The school replaces its high-efficiency MERV-13 filters every six months and will continue to keep these same ventilation practices even when the pandemic ends.

Both FSU and Leon County Schools say, while air filtration is important, it of course doesn’t eliminate the threat of COVID. It’s still the responsibility of students and staff to take proper safety measures to protect themselves.

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