Academic Research

Ventilation during COVID-19 in a school for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD)Background This study examined the correlation of classroom ventilation (air exchanges per hour (ACH)) and exposure to CO2 ≥1,000 ppm with the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 over a 20-month period in a specialized school for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). These students were at a higher risk of respiratory infection from SARS-CoV-2 due to challenges in tolerating mitigation measures (e.g. masking). One in-school measure proposed to help mitigate the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection in schools is increased ventilation. Methods We established a community-engaged research partnership between the University of Rochester and the Mary Cariola Center school for students with IDD. Ambient CO2 levels were measured in 100 school rooms, and air changes per hour (ACH) were calculated. The number of SARS-CoV-2 cases for each room was collected over 20 months. Results 97% of rooms had an estimated ACH ≤4.0, with 7% having CO2 levels ≥2,000 ppm for up to 3 hours per school day. A statistically significant correlation was found between the time that a room had CO2 levels ≥1,000 ppm and SARS-CoV-2 PCR tests normalized to room occupancy, accounting for 43% of the variance. No statistically significant correlation was found for room ACH and per-room SARS-CoV-2 cases. Rooms with ventilation systems using MERV-13 filters had lower SARS-CoV-2-positive PCR counts. These findings led to ongoing efforts to upgrade the ventilation systems in this community-engaged research project. Conclusions There was a statistically significant correlation between the total time of room CO2 concentrations ≥1,000 and SARS-CoV-2 cases in an IDD school. Merv-13 filters appear to decrease the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection. This research partnership identified areas for improving in-school ventilation.