Opinion: Fix crumbling school infrastructure

School buildings are in desperate need of repair, particularly of their systems that manage indoor air quality, according to an opinion piece co-authored by Joseph Allen of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In an October 18, 2021, article in The Hill, Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, and co-author Celine Gounder of the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital, urged action to upgrade schools’ ventilation and air filtration systems, which are key to removing infectious aerosols such as the coronavirus. Studies have shown that better air leads to better student health, student thinking and student test performance. They also noted that there are inequities when it comes to indoor ventilation, with ventilation rates lower in schools that are majority Black or Latinx than in majority white schools.

Beyond fixes for poor air quality, schools also need help dealing with mold and asbestos, overcrowding, windowless rooms, undrinkable water, PCBs and other toxic chemicals in building materials, pest infestation, poor acoustics, and low-quality lighting, the authors wrote. New investments could also make schools more resilient to climate change, they added.

Allen also wrote an op-ed in the October 19, 2021, Washington Post that called for setting a firm date for ending masking in schools. He argued that the risk of COVID-19 to children is low, and that with vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds expected in November, “schools should be able to lift their mask mandates by the end of the year at the latest.” He noted that high-risk teachers or parents now have access to booster shots and can continue to wear high-grade masks if they want more protection. He also called for other safety measures, such as mandating vaccines for all adults in schools, hosting at-school vaccination clinics for eligible kids, and expanding the use of rapid COVID-19 tests.

“This isn’t about whether masks work,” he wrote. “They do.” But “we shouldn’t extend controls beyond what’s necessary, or else we lose the public’s trust.”

Read article The Hill: We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix our crumbling schools

Read article in The Washington Post: Opinion: Schools should do away with mask mandates by the end of the year