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UFT industrial hygienists answer your most frequently-asked ventilation safety questions in this short video

For more details about winter ventilation in school buildings, see the DOE winter ventilation plan

To read the DOE's document on HVAC & ventilation procedures and policies, go to: HVAC Protocols for School Reopening

Vaccinations

Will school-based staff be required to be vaccinated once the forthcoming COVID-19 vaccines become available?

On Dec. 2, 2020, Governor Cuomo said that COVID-19 vaccines would be strongly encouraged, but they would not be mandated for anyone in New York State. Nursing home residents and staff will be offered the vaccine first, followed by health care professionals. As of Dec. 20, 2020, the CDC has listed K-12 educators under Phase 1B in the order of eligibility to receive the vaccine. The UFT will continue to monitor discussions at the state and federal level on this issue and will keep its members informed of all developments.

Ventilation

Do classroom windows have to be kept open during the cold, winter months to provide adequate ventilation?

The DOE recommends increasing the circulation of outdoor air into buildings to ensure strong indoor ventilation by lowering the concentration of an airborne virus, such as the one that causes COVID-19. In general, if your classroom or office has operable windows, keep the windows and doors open. All windows do not necessarily have to be wide open, especially when it is raining, snowing or extremely cold outside. 

My classroom is freezing now that cold weather has arrived and the windows are open to increase ventilation. What can help keep the room comfortable for myself and my students?

In many cases, custodial staff will arrive early during the winter to preheat the school building before the arrival of staff and students. They are supposed to maintain temperatures in the building at 68º F throughout the day if the outside temperature falls below 55º F. If the school is too cold, staff should moderate window openings and the chapter leader should reach out to the principal or custodial staff directly to ensure that the heating system is working. Space heaters may also be provided. Remember to dress in layers and bring additional warm clothes for yourself. Be sure to also remind students and their parents about the importance of dressing warmly for school.

What can I do to help increase air flow and maintain good ventilation in my classroom during the colder months?

The DOE recommends a window opening of about 3 inches, but it is not necessary to open both the top and bottom of a window. Not all windows in a classroom need to be open; one window is typically sufficient to maintain good airflow in a smaller room, and two open windows will work for most larger rooms. Keep your radiators clear on top and bottom to maximize heat flow and keep any vents clear to make sure they can properly circulate air in your room. You can keep your classroom door closed which helps circulation flowing through air vents and windows, and also helps keep heat in your room.

What types of air filters will be used with school HVAC systems to help reduce the risk of COVID-19?

The DOE has purchased MERV-13 filters for school buildings with central HVAC systems. Approximately 13,700 filters will be shipped to schools starting on Nov. 15, with more deliveries arriving weekly. Filter distribution will be distributed on a priority basis according to the following criteria:

  • Buildings where the majority of the instructional spaces are served by a central HVAC system
  • HVAC systems serving inner core rooms
  • Buildings with no windows or fixed glazing
  • HVAC systems where air is recirculated

While schools are awaiting MERV-13 filters, HVAC systems should operate to allow in the maximum amount of outside air without potential damage to cold-sensitive parts in the HVAC units.

Will schools be receiving any air purifiers to increase ventilation over the winter months?

The DOE has ordered 10,000 HEPA-rated air purifier units. A minimum of two filters per building, one for each nurse's office and isolation room, have been delivered to schools. Additional air purifiers are being used to support additional spaces with ventilation concerns, including bathrooms with non-working exhausts and classrooms requiring mitigating measures, such as interior spaces without windows, rooms awaiting repairs, etc. Another 20,000 have been ordered and will be distributed on the following priority basis:

  • Rooms with limited windows and no mechanical ventilation
  • Rooms with operable windows and mechanical ventilation awaiting repairs
  • Inner core rooms with no windows but which do have HVAC systems
  • Buildings waiting for MERV-13 filters and which also have reduced outside air supply to maintain building temperatures in cold weather

Will schools be monitoring carbon dioxide levels to ensure air quality this winter?

Yes. School custodians will be using indoor air quality monitors to check air levels. Acceptable levels of CO2 are considered to be lower than 1100 parts per million (ppm).

My school building does not have an HVAC system, but we do have windows that open. What steps are being taken to ensure we will have proper ventilation?

For buildings with operable windows, the DOE suggests that windows remain open approximately 3 inches as a general rule, which will provide enough outside air to dilute the virus. If your building also has air conditioning units, they may remain on if there are windows to open in the classroom as well. Custodial staff will operate all exhaust systems two hours prior to building occupancy and one hour after building occupancy.

The windows in my school building/classroom do not open. What procedures will the DOE be following to make sure our HVAC system is working well to provide adequate ventilation?

In closed systems with HVAC, the maximum amount of outside air should be circulated indoors during this pandemic. The DOE recommends custodians open the dampers on the roof to maximum capacity, which will improve indoor air quality. The air conditioning may not work as effectively but the quality of the air will be much improved. All HVAC equipment and the areas/rooms supported by these systems have been inspected by custodian engineers and will continue to be inspected daily to ensure proper operation. Custodial staff will operate all applicable HVAC equipment and ventilate buildings two hours prior to building occupancy and one hour after building occupancy.

PPE

How much personal protective equipment supplies will schools have on hand to provide to staff members?

The DOE has promised to ensure that schools will always have a 30-day supply of PPE on hand and will replenish those supplies on a daily basis if necessary. If your school lacks appropriate PPE, please report this to your UFT chapter leader as soon as possible.

Who monitors the amount of personal protective equipment in each school building and how do schools obtain more supplies as needed?

The school custodian will maintain the school’s supply of personal protective equipment. Schools should have a 30-day supply of PPE on hand at all times. The DOE will deliver more supplies to schools as needed. All of these health and safety supplies are provided free of charge to the school. If you need personal protective equipment, speak to your chapter leader or the head of your COVID-19 building response team.

How do we get access to and distribute the PPE at my school?

We all have the right to access PPE at any time it is needed. Schools should have a 30 day supply of face masks/shields, hand sanitizer, and cleaning supplies. A process needs to be in place for staff to access the supplies they need on demand. You cannot be denied PPE, but there is a need for keeping it sanitary and to keep people from taking more than they need, so the process for distribution needs to be clearly defined within a school. The BRT teams should create and enforce a policy for PPE distribution. Any issues should be brought to your chapter leader.

Examples of school policies could include the following:

  • A request can be made to admin and a custodian can bring the requested supplies to your room in a timely manner.
  • A supply of masks or shields is kept at the entrances and given to people who request it at entry from a security guard or checkpoint staff member.
  • A request for a specific number of items which would make up a week’s supply is submitted and that supply is delivered to your room in a timely manner.

Cleaning

What chemicals are being used in sprayers for disinfecting schools? Could they cause a health issue?

The DOE is using Purtab from Evaclean in their electrostatic sprayer. They will also be using Green Kleen. These products are on the EPA’s list of approved disinfectants for COVID-19. The active ingredient is sodium dichloroisocyanurate (NaDCC). It is a source of free chlorine when disinfecting and, as such, works the same as bleach. It is not a known carcinogen. Like bleach, it is caustic, but is marketed as less caustic when dissolved in water and a safer alternative to bleach. Cleaners should not be disinfecting with this product while the school building is occupied.

Safety personnel

Who will be on the COVID-19 building response team (BRT)? 

A school's COVID-19 building response team will be composed of:

  • BRT Leader
  • Special Needs Coordinator
  • Emergency officer
  • Assembly Point Coordinator
  • Recorder
  • School Nurse
  • Custodian
  • School Safety Agent/Agents

Assigning people to those positions should be a shared decision on a school level.

What happens if our school does not have a school nurse?

If there is no nurse, your school should remain remote. Having a school nurse is on our 50-point safety plan.