Schools fight COVID-19 with air purification systems

Several Idaho schools are combatting the spread of COVID-19 with new air purification systems.Global Plasma Solutions is one company using needlepoint bipolar ionization to fire ions into the air, breaking down outer proteins on mold, viruses, bacteria, volatile organic compounds and allergens and killing them. Researchers tested the system on different pathogens, such as tuberculosis, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and mold spores, finding a strong kill rate among all tested pathogens.

Bishop Kelly was among the first schools in Idaho to install a GPS air purification system. Rich Raimondi, the school’s president, said 94 devices were installed last summer, finishing just days after school started on Aug. 17.

A private school, Bishop Kelly, spent about $75,000 to have devices installed in every classroom, the cafeteria, library and other areas.

“They are in every indoor space where staff and students might congregate,” he said.

The McCall-Donnelly and Weiser school districts also had devices installed in all buildings. Several others have opted for partial installations:

  • The College of Western Idaho and Treasure Valley Community College put devices in their dining halls.
  • Nampa installed them in the district nurse’s offices and at Greenhurst Elementary.
  • Charter schools, including Anser, Foothills, Alzar, Liberty, Legacy, Victory and Idaho Arts.  

McCall-Donnelly received its system in early November for about $69,000, Director of Operations Jason Clay said.

While it’s hard to quantify exactly how well the air purification systems are helping to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Raimondi believes they are working as intended.

Bishop Kelly took air samples before and after the installation to reveal a reduction in air particles. Raimondi credits the system for helping kids continue to learn in school. Bishop Kelly has been in-person for 18 of 22 weeks this school year. The school adopted a hybrid learning model for three weeks and a fully remote model for one week. By comparison, many of the metro-area schools were still in remote learning for the month of December.

Raimondi said 46 of the school’s 870 students have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the year, which is fewer than many neighboring Treasure Valley high schools. He believes none of the cases were transmitted in the school.

“I think that’s a remarkable record,” Raimondi said. “So I do think the air purification system is working.”

He also noted that the school’s flu cases have been “almost nonexistent” this year, though he add that other safety precautions, from social distancing to face coverings, are also helping to slow the spread of the flu.

Clay said McCall-Donnelly’s system automatically checks building air quality.

“In every space that was monitored, the results showed a significant drop in particulate matter,” Clay said. “As for neutralizing the COVID virus, we must trust the science.”

Raimondi said he’s also excited to see how the air purification system helps with other air issues in the Treasure Valley, like allergens in the spring and smoke in the late summer.

Nik Streng

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