As students prepare to return to the classrooms this fall, some parents are still concerned about the rise in COVID-19 cases.

SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- As students prepare to return to the classrooms this fall, some parents are still concerned about the rise in COVID-19 cases. Because COVID-19 is an airborne illness, they wonder if the air in schools is safe.

“The virus lingers in the air if it travels more than a few feet,” said Paula Olsiewski, contributing scholar at Johns Hopkins University.

Health officials told us COVID-19 infects people by traveling through air particles.

Which has people taking a closer look, at the air they breathe in. For over 20 years, Olsiewski has worked in pandemic preparedness and she studied the importance of air quality with airborne illnesses. She said in the fight against COVID-19, improving the air quality is one of, if not the most, crucial step.

"School ventilation is an underutilized tool. It's a cost-effective public health measure,” Olsiewski added.

She suggested that schools update their HVAC systems to allow in more outside air and to add air filters to classrooms. That's exactly what some local school districts including Springfield, Northampton, and Chicopee have done.

Springfield Public School Supt. Dan Warwick said their air filtration systems were already up to standard but as COVID-19 cases spread, parents and teachers grew more concerned about the air in schools.

"When we took a look at our schools in light of COVID, we wanted to change the standard for air quality from the typical standard to meeting an ASHRAE standard, the highest-level standard,” Warwick noted.

Warwick said the district hired an industrial hygienist to evaluate the air quality in each of the district buildings, then the city invested millions of dollars to improve the air systems in each and every school.

“…Including MERV-13 filters in all of our systems and using ion filters in our HVAC systems…We also put optic clean units in some of older schools that needed that filtration system,” Warwick noted.

Now, they are hopeful those changes will protect students and staff from the virus.

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