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I-TEAM: Schools improve air filtration to fight COVID spread

Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 6:48 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Ever since the beginning of COVID we heard a lot about air filtration. In addition to upgrading mask requirements on school buses, the I-Team found Columbia County appears to have made the most changes to their air filtration on buses and in the classroom. We also asked a medical expert why it’s so important.

Kids are getting back in the classroom which has many parents and some administrators holding their breath as the delta variant of COVID becomes dominant here. Dr. Jacob Eichenberger is a pediatric doctor at the Children’s Gospital of Georgia where he’s treating local children admitted with COVID complications.

“Kids definitely can spread this one more easily. With the original wild type and the some of the early variants we still thought kids were not a major player in the spread of the virus; the delta they are much more significant whether it’s more activities or the variant itself kids are definitely spreading it more,” said Dr. Eichenberger.

With an even more contagious virus, mitigation becomes even more important.

Other than masking, social distancing and vaccines for those eligible, the CDC recommends making improvements to indoor air filtration.

“Yes it does look like even air movement has been effective. Even if you aren’t doing any ultraviolet or HEPA filtering that simply just moving the air is helpful,” said Dr. Eichenberger.

After the I-Team first showed you this concern last year of undercover video from a Columbia County school bus driver worried about the chemicals sprayed on the bus to kill viral particles. Back then the district told us they were working to upgrade their air filtration.

So the I-Team followed up and found Columbia County spent nearly $400,000 of CARES Act funding to install something called needlepoint bi polar ionization units in every school in the district. And every school bus.

The district says that’s 954 units in every school building and 300 in every school bus. In an email they said it was used as “An added layer of protection” because this “Air quality technology actually minimizes dangerous virus particles.”

Can air cleaning devices that use bipolar ionization, including portable air cleaners and in-duct air cleaners used in HVAC systems, protect me from COVID-19?

The EPA says bipolar ionization as “Can be used in HVAC systems…to generate positively and negatively charged particles…” but the epa also warns the technology " has the potential to generate ozone and other potentially harmful by-products indoors.”

The I-Team found company the district used – Global Plasma Solutions meets the recommended certifications from the EPA – by eliminating ozone. “Our technology helps clean indoor air without producing harmful levels of ozone or other byproducts.”

Richmond County tells us they have not made any changes to school bus filtration. They are currently hoping to work through a lengthy work order list to improve air conditioning units at county public schools with future funding from the American Rescue Plan. Aiken County did not get us their records in time.

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