COVID-19 study: School ventilation systems could play role in stopping spread

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Thursday, July 30, 2020
Scientists map how COVID-19 could spread in schools
New demonstration shows how the placement of a ventilation system in the classroom could make a big difference in the spread of the COVID-19 in schools.

MINNEAPOLIS -- As more schools across the U.S. push back reopening or opt for online learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a new simulation shows how the coronavirus could spread in the classroom and what you may be able to do to prevent it.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota, who are studying the spread of the coronavirus, focused on the placement of ventilation units, desks and people.

They demonstrated two simulated classrooms. The first one had the teacher directly below the ventilation system. The second one showed the ventilation system in the back of the room.

The scenario assumes the teacher is an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19.

As the simulation begins, the particles move around the classroom, the virus spreads significantly less in the classroom where the teacher is directly below the vent. Red areas indicated hot zones where the virus could be collected. In the simulation, the classroom where the teacher and vent were on opposite sides appeared all red.

The virus was much more contained in the simulation where the teacher stood below the vent, according to the study.

"What we found is really the design of the ventilation, especially the position of ventilation with respect to the individuals that makes a huge difference," said Jiarong Hong, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota.

But there are two important caveats, the study assumes the teacher, not a student, is the one infected. It also doesn't take into account what happens when you wear a mask.

"If we think about best practices like mask wearing, social distancing, proper ventilation, but also the layout of a classroom with respect to that ventilation, I think we're going to have the best chance of reducing transmission," Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and an ABC News contributor, told Good Morning America.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is also touting eye protection as another possible tool to fight the virus.

"If you have goggles or an eye shield, you should use it," the nation's top infectious disease expert told ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton during an Instagram Live conversation on ABC News.

He noted that goggles and eye or face shields are "not universally recommended" at this time, "but if you really want to be complete, you should probably use it if you can."