Technology is helping to fight the spread of COVID-19 in Iroquois schools.
A purification system originally developed by NASA was installed at Iroquois Elementary School and Iroquois Junior-Senior High School just before Christmas break. The ActivePure system now in operation in the schools is designed to find and deactivate COVID-19, influenza and other viruses and pathogens, both in the air and on surfaces.
Federal COVID-19 relief funds paid the $249,000 price tag for the system.
"What made this company stand out was that it sent an engineering company here to look at our buildings and design a system that meets our needs and keeps kids healthy," Iroquois schools Superintendent Shane Murray said. "It wasn't just, 'Here, plug this box in.' We've been working since March to get this done."
The system includes purification units in the schools' ductwork, portable plug-in units in offices and classrooms, and ceiling tile units. Room volume, the number of people generally in each room and the building age are among considerations used to determine system needs in each area, said Daniel Garstang, vice president of the operations partner program at ActivePure.
Garstang was in the school district Thursday.
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"Every building has its own personality. When we walk through the premises we can determine the best product to use to have the best outcome possible. We design the solution for each space," including hallways that are not heated and cafeterias and other large areas, Garstang said.
Industrial-sized portable units will be brought to gyms and natatoriums to boost purification during basketball games, swim meets and other events.
"If more people are coming in and potentially increasing pathogen loads, we can put additional units in those areas," Garstang said.
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One hiccup since the system was installed was a power failure when students returned to classes after the holiday break. The purifiers operate on electricity, so the system was temporarily down.
The purification system isn't without controversy. When Philadelphia school officials announced that they would install the system in city schools last summer, university environmental engineering experts disagreed on whether the system would be safe and effective. Some said additional testing is needed outside laboratory environments.
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ActivePure has been extensively tested for some years, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Garstang said.
"It's become very popular because of confidence. We have science beyond lab testings, in real-world testings, and are getting fantastic results," he said.
Philadelphia schools have had positive results, including low COVID-19 case rates, since the system was installed, said Arnold Becker, regional representative for ActivePure.
Of 138,927 Philadelphia students and staff, 4,622, or 3.3%, tested positive for COVID-19 from Aug. 23, when staff began the 2021-22 school year, through Jan. 1, according to the Philadelphia School District's online COVID-19 tracker.
Other ActivePure clients include casinos, hotels, retail stores, nursing homes, and sports facilities, including facilities operated by Major League Baseball teams the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers, Garstang said. Locally, Community Country Day School and United Way of Erie County have purchased portable ActivePure systems.
Data shows that absenteeism has dropped dramatically where the purification system is in use, Garstang said. That data was a major reason that the Iroquois School District opted to buy the purifiers.
"It made sense for us to go with the best science available and get this," Murray said.
With the purification system, the district will be able to reduce some COVID mitigation costs, including some surface disinfection, he said.
"We'll still wipe down door handles and that kind of thing, but the bigger savings will come in reduced loss of staff and reduced loss of learning for kids," Murray said.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Iroquois schools buy purification system with COVID relief funds