Tim Gallagher, VP of Sales at Senseware reflects on the closure of his children's school, and his efforts to help them reopen.
2020 has been a unique year for everyone, parents included. Local and regional governments tried to slow the spread of the Coronavirus by putting shutdowns in place. As a result, many of the activities we’ve relied on as parents to entertain, engage, and educate our children have become off-limits.
Along with the rest of Virginia, my kids' school was shut down for in-person learning. We did everything we could to make our e-learning adventure fun and just as educational - but it was clear, my kids wanted to be back with their friends. I knew I needed to take an active role in helping Saint Agnes Catholic School reopen in the fall.
During the summer, the Coronavirus had been studied enough to understand that the spread was happening primarily through airborne transmission. I am fortunate to work with scientists and engineers at Senseware who have dedicated themselves to studying indoor air quality. The team had been working diligently to adapt our Indoor Air Quality products to answer new challenges brought on by the Coronavirus. They sought to change the product to one that could alert administrators when environmental conditions that enable the spread of Coronavirus were present. By measuring ventilation, humidity, temperature, air exchange rate, and other metrics, Sensware could deliver a real-time infection risk score.
As a parent, safety is my top priority. Before feeling comfortable sending my kids back for in-person learning, I needed data about the spread of Coronavirus. Above all, I needed assurance that the measures taken in school were effective enough. This couldn’t be an experiment; it was my kids after all.
Sitting down with the school administrators, I recommended Senseware’s products as a tool in their strategy to reopen. They, too had been doing significant research into the transmission of Coronavirus. Research had shown that HVAC effectiveness was a large part of reducing the spread. Just two years prior, Saint Agnes had put in a new HVAC system. Following this installation, Saint Agnes needed to evaluate their system and make targeted improvements for the most impact on student safety. Senseware provided just the answer.
Saint Agnes and Senseware worked in tandem for the remainder of the summer. After installing hardware and collecting data about the HVAC system, we learned the changes required to make the school more safe:
1. Address vulnerabilities with portable air filtration.
Senseware IAQ monitors were able to identify vulnerable areas where ventilation and filtration were lacking. As a result, insights were provided into where portable air filtration systems should be placed.
2. Targeted classroom quarantine plan.
IAQ monitoring provides the data and assurance that ventilation and filtration rates would help lessen the possibility of transmission. This allowed administrators to put quarantine procedures in place that would only require the affected classroom to quarantine, rather than the entire school.
3. Updated cleaning procedures.
Saint Agnes had already implemented new surface cleaning procedures following the outbreak of the Coronavirus in the spring. However, Senseware IAQ monitors reviewed the Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) concentration in the air and found that the cleaning products used were having negative impacts on the air quality. Breathing in disinfectants and chemicals from cleaning products can have negative side effects, especially in children. VOC data insights allowed Saint Agnes to adjust the products they were using and change their cleaning schedule, resulting in cleaner air.
4. Solutions for specific rooms.
Libraries present a different air quality challenge from other areas of a school. As books are opened and used, particulate matter is released into the air. To address this concern, Saint Agnes installed a roof unit with a MERV-13 (HEPA Grade) filter during their earlier HVAC renovation. Given the unique requirements of the environment, Senseware deployed an Advanced Particle Counter in addition to the standard IAQ monitors. The advanced counter measures particles in the air down to 0.3 microns. The resulting data allowed Saint Agnes to verify the effectiveness of their existing filter, and make new improvements with Coronavirus transmission mitigation in mind. Data revealed that filtration speed needed to be improved, and as a result portable filtration units were added to the space for improved safety.
With data in hand, Saint Agnes was able to focus the limited resources available to generate the largest returns for health and safety. Both Saint Agnes and I were ready to send our kids back to school by the fall.
While I’m one of the lucky few that happened to be working in an emerging technology that could directly benefit my kids, and my school, the work Senseware and Saint Agnes have completed provides a roadmap for other schools to succeed. We’ve applied our learnings from Saint Agnes to help other schools reopen, including work with all 117 schools in Washington D.C. Public School District. We’re proud to be playing a part in helping our schools return to a sense of normalcy once again.