EPA helms White House indoor air plan to help fight Covid-19

By Ariel Wittenberg | 03/18/2022 01:19 PM EDT

Coronavirus rendering.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus causes the coronavirus disease that spread rapidly around the globe. Food and Drug Administration

EPA is leading the Biden administration’s latest initiative to stop the spread of Covid-19.

The agency wrote new ventilation and air quality guidelines for schools, colleges and other building owners and operators released by the White House yesterday.

The guidance, dubbed the “Clean Air in Buildings Challenge,” is the latest step in the administration’s National Covid-19 Preparedness Plan meant to get Americans safely back to their normal routines. EPA’s guidance was written in conjunction with the Department of Energy and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


It recommends that building owners and operators create indoor air action plans to assess indoor air quality; optimize fresh air ventilation by bringing outdoor air indoors; enhance air filtration through heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems; and communicate with building occupants to increase awareness of air quality and ventilation issues.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan tweeted about the initiative, saying the agency “is following through on @POTUS’ plan to move our nation forward in a healthy, sustainable way in the fight against COVID-19.”

The White House is also working with partners to create a new building certification program, similar to the LEED program that recognizes green buildings, that would recognize buildings that meet certain levels of air quality and filtration. Other parts of the National Covid-19 Preparedness Plan include increasing the supply of Covid-19 tests and launching an effort to vaccinate America’s toddlers once the Food and Drug Administration approves vaccines for 2- to 4-year-olds.

EPA has long advised schools on ways to improve indoor air quality. Stuffy classrooms with poor ventilation have been shown to contribute to lower test scores (Greenwire, Sept. 13, 2021).

Prior to the pandemic, however, the issue was often neglected as schools with tight operating and maintenance budgets faced hard choices about what improvements to fund, often deciding money was better spent on school security or academics than on HVAC repairs.

That changed in just the past year and a half as the pandemic erupted and scientists determined that Covid-19 is spread through the air. As states and schools dropped their indoor mask mandates this winter, ventilation again has become front and center.

That hasn’t been lost on EPA (Greenwire, Feb. 11). Last month, the agency hosted a webinar with indoor air experts about ventilation and filtration where the EPA Indoor Environments Division’s Tracy Washington Enger said, “The pandemic has provided us with a defining moment on indoor air quality for schools.”

“Here we are two years into the pandemic, and what we are starting to hear is a shift in how we are thinking about coronavirus in this nation,” she told the webinar, saying the nation is now facing a question of “how we as individuals and institutions will make the shift from a crisis response to a pandemic to living with an endemic disease.”