In a new UK Government initiative to reduce the spread of COVID, schools across the UK have received CO2 monitors for better ventilation
Due to the virus which causes COVID-19 being airborne, schools are taking steps to ensure that the air is properly refreshed by using ventilation to reduce its spread. So far, schools have received over 300,000 CO2 monitors to push forward this initiative.
Dr Henry Burridge, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering said: “The monitors empower teachers to strike a balance between good ventilation and warmth during winter. We are pleased that the government is taking evidence-based action to address air quality and COVID-19 spread in schools.”
Lower CO2 levels have been linked to better cognitive performance
The level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in a closed space is a good indicator of air quality and can signal the need for ventilation, ensuring the air is properly refreshed using ventilation is crucial for reducing COVID-19 spread.
The monitors rolled out to schools display levels of CO2 and colour coding to indicate good, normal, or poor ventilation. Well ventilated spaces should have CO2 levels consistently below 800 parts per million (ppm), with readings above 1500ppm indicating poor ventilation or over-crowding.
The monitors allow teachers to see immediate changes to carbon levels, as windows are opened and air is refreshed, allowing them to balance ventilation and warmth. Teachers can also use the monitors to know when it is safe to close windows slightly, which could help them keep classrooms more comfortable.
Apart of the project CO-TRACE, this initiative is a collaboration between Imperial College London and the Universities of Cambridge and Surrey. The researchers behind the collaboration have produced materials to help teachers use the monitors, and used experimental modelling, numerical simulations, full-scale observations, and infection risk modelling to understand how the potential for COVID-19 spread changes with indoor air flows, ventilation levels, and the number of people in a space.
Dr Henry Burridge, added: “CO2 monitors allow teachers to assess the ventilation in their classrooms for the first time. Monitoring air quality is especially important during colder months when ventilation is typically lower due to colder outdoor temperatures, causing COVID-19 and other airborne diseases like ‘flu and the common cold to linger and spread more easily.”
“Minimising any potential disruption to education”
During 2021, the researchers used monitored CO2 to indicate how much exhaled breath was present within classrooms, and their models found that seasonal variation in classroom ventilation levels could lead to airborne infection risks in winter being roughly double those in summer. This highlights that monitoring excess CO2 could be of significant benefit in mitigating airborne infection risk.
“A balance between good ventilation and warmth”
Additionally, the portability of the CO2 monitors supplied by the Department for Education (DfE), allows schools to move them around easily to test different areas, especially in places teachers suspect to be poorly ventilated.
It is recommended by the team that schools with in which have low air quality, despite ventilation, should consider using air cleaners. For such schools, the DfE is distributing between 7,000 and 8,000 air cleaning units.
Dr Burridge said: “The monitors empower teachers to strike a balance between good ventilation and warmth during winter. We are pleased that the government is taking evidence-based action to address air quality and COVID-19 spread in schools.”
Then-Education Secretary Gavin Williamson added: “Providing all schools with CO2 monitors will help them make sure they have the right balance of measures in place, minimising any potential disruption to education and allowing them to focus on world class lessons and catch up for the children who need it.
“By keeping up simple measures such as ventilation and testing, young people can now enjoy more freedom at school and college.”