COVID-19: Resources for Reopening Healthy School Facilities

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Reopening America’s public schools for site-based instruction safely amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic requires school facilities to be in good repair and to be used differently than normal. Operating healthy school buildings is a foundational necessity for battling the pandemic. Here we curate resources and tools developed by experts to assist local schools and states in safely and equitably reopening their school facilities.

Updates? Contact us! This list is a living resource. Please send us resources we should add: or via Twitter: @CitiesSchoolsUC

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Biden Administration Launches Effort to Improve Ventilation and Reduce the Spread of COVID-⁠19 in Buildings

In March 2022, the Biden Administration launched the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, which calls on all building owners and operators, schools, colleges and universities, and organizations of all kinds to adopt key strategies to improve indoor air quality in their buildings and reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

As part of the challenge, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a best practices guide for improving indoor air quality and reducing the risk of spreading dangerous airborne particles.

Developed in collaboration with the Department of Energy, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other federal agencies

Clean Air in Buildings Challenge: Guidance to Help Building Owners and Operators Improve Air Quality and Protect Public Health

Reopening Schools Safely and Equitably Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic: School Facilities are Frontline Defense in Reducing Risk

Jeff Vincent, Center for Cities + Schools, UC Berkeley

As the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, rapidly spread across the globe in Spring 2020, one of the most widely implemented risk reduction measures utilized was to physically close all school buildings. Reopening America’s public schools for site-based instruction safely amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is remarkably complicated and hotly debated. Operating healthy school buildings is a necessity for doing so. However, the important urgency of having school facilities in good repair is missing from the national debate on school reopening. This brief describes how the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads and why mitigation measures are recommended for schools. This brief argues that it will be more difficult for schools with poor condition facilities to effectively implement the SARS-CoV-2 mitigation measures. As a result, students and staff attending these schools will face greater health risks.

Commentary: "To safely reopen schools, we have to talk about indoor air quality and ventilation," by CC+S's Jeff Vincent in EdSource, October 5, 2020. 

Efficient and Healthy Schools Campaign (U.S. Department of Energy)

The Efficient and Healthy Schools campaign aims to engage K-12 schools to improve energy performance and indoor air quality, with a focus on practical solutions involving HVAC and other technologies to reduce energy use and carbon emissions. This campaign is led by the U.S. Department of Energy with technical support from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Lessons from the Field: Indoor Air Quality and Ventilation in America's K-12 Schools: Guidance and Strategies for Improved Results. Presentation by U.S. EPA and U.S. Department of Education. June 30, 2021

School Ventilation: A Vital Tool to Reduce COVID-19 Spread by The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security (May 2021)

Many kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) schools in the United States do not have good ventilation. This report focuses on an important component of cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities: ventilation. Improvements in ventilation can help reduce risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and other infectious diseases and improve students’ overall health and ability to learn. In this report, we consider the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children, families, and educators; review the evidence that improvements in ventilation reduces risks of disease transmission; and summarize current ventilation guidelines. A broad conclusion of this research is that the benefits to investing in healthy air in schools have the potential to outlast the COVID-19 pandemic. Improved ventilation may give children and school staff healthier indoor air quality for decades in the future, providing a healthier environment for nonpandemic times and potentially reducing risks in future infectious disease outbreaks.

FAQs on Protecting Yourself from COVID-19 Aerosol Transmission

Living document created by 7 of the world's leading scientists and engineers on air quality, aerosol science, aerosol disease transmission, and engineered control systems for aerosols. A reader-friendly comprehensive set of information on how SARS-CoV-2 spreads and how to mitigate risk.

The Six-Foot Rule: understanding the debate over it

Six foot spacing has become a widely recognized concept - but there's not much hard-and-fast about it. As school leaders know, the different between a six-foot rule and, say, a three-foot rule is huge when thinking about classroom capacity and how many students can be on campus. This article in The BMJ, "Two metres or one: what is the evidence for physical distancing in covid-19?" reviews the scientific evidence on physical distancing. The authors (from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Oxford) argue that rigid safe distancing rules are an oversimplification based on outdated science and experiences of past viruses. Instead, they propose that places like schools look not at a hard-and-fast distance rule but instead vary the distance rule based on an activity’s setting, length and occupancy level, as well as its ventilation and whether participants are masked. So, for. example a full classroom of children in masks for many hours may be medium- or high-risk, depending on ventilation in the space. Washington Post (March 11, 2021) coverage of the six-foot debate.

Designing infectious disease resilience into school buildings through improvements to ventilation and air cleaning (APRIL 2021)

By the THE LANCET COVID-19 COMMISSION TASK FORCE ON SAFE WORK, SAFE SCHOOL, AND SAFE TRAVEL. Makes the case that buildings play a critical role in the transmission of airborne infectious diseases and that school buildings in particular are too often underventilated. Provides empirical evidence and recommendations for building operators.

COVID-19 Aerosol Transmission Estimator

Developed by Prof. Jose L Jimenez, Dept. of Chem. and CIRES, Univ. of Colorado-Boulder. The Estimator calculates COVID-19 infection risk for a number of basic situations, including different sized classrooms. The model is downloadable and free, and users can tweak inputs to ask, for example, what’s my risk if other students wear or don’t wear masks?

Classroom Ventilation and Transmission Risk

To use this tool, you input your classroom characteristics (room volume, occupancy, ventilation, filtration, and other mitigation measures in place) and it assesses COVID transmission risk using the Wells-Riley formula. Developed by CannonDesign, a national school facility planning firm.

Classroom COVID Capacity Calculator

Easy-to-use tool helps schools determine the number of students in classrooms and other school spaces to meet social distancing objectives. Developed by CannonDesign, a national school facility planning firm.

Coronavirus Group Exposure Risk Calculator for Schools

Developed by CannonDesign and Cooperative Strategies and based on the work of Lauren Ancel Meyers at the University of Texas at Austin, this calculator is an interactive dashboard of epidiological risk. This dashboard enables K-12 and higher educational leaders to adjust and reference key operational thresholds to inform re-opening decisions in a data-driven way. Case data from NYT and updated frequently. 

Indoor Air Quality in K-12 Schools: Layered Risk (Dose) Reduction Amidst COVID-19

November 19, 2020 EPA webinar, including presentation by Richard L. Corsi, Ph.D., P.E. (Dean, Maseeh College of Engineering & Computer Science, Portland State University), hosted by U.S. EPA, International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate (ISIAQ), and the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). Video hereCorsi's Powerpoint slides here.

Explainer video: Let’s talk about transmission of respiratory infectious diseases (University of Colorado Boulder)

Simple, clear explainer video of how transmission of respitory diseases, such as COVID-19, occurs. Created by Shelly Miller and Marina Vance at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Healthy Schools: Cleaning, Disinfecting, Healthy Air Quality, Scheduling and Social Distancing. A Resource for School Facility and Maintenance Departments

By California’s Coalition for Adequate School Housing (CASH) Maintenance Network June 2020

California Department of Public Health Indoor Air Quality Program Tools

Report: "The role of building ventilation and filtration in reducing risk of airborne viral transmission in schools, illustrated with SARS-CoV-2.” Based on modeling assumptions and results, the following protective strategies can substantially reduce relative risk of long-range airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2: Mask Wearing, Outdoor air ventilation, Filtration, In-room (portable) air cleaners.

Report also includes 4 appendices:

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Healthy Buildings Program

The Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health has developed a series of tools for schools to mitigate COVID-19 risks: "Schools should adopt and adapt these recommendations to best fit their unique situation, depending on available personnel, resources, finances, school demographics, and building attributes. In addition, schools should frequently revisit their approach as the COVID-19 situation changes over time in each community. Although it is unlikely that any given school will be able to incorporate every recommendation, we want to emphasize that these strategies work together as part of a multi-layered plan to reduce exposure and limit transmission of COVID-19 in schools."



Tool: 5 Step Guide to Checking Ventilation Rates in Classrooms. Easy to use guide on checking ventilation rates and, if needed, adding supplemental air cleaning strategies to meet targets.

Tool: PORTABLE AIR CLEANER CALCULATOR FOR SCHOOLS.v1Developed in partnership with researchers at the University of Colorado-Boulder, this tool is intended to simplify decision-making around portable air cleaners in schools for airborne transmission control. Explainer video of the tool:

National Council on School Facilities

The National Council on School Facilities (NCSF) supports states in their varied roles and responsibilities and to advocate for support mechanisms and processes that equitably deliver safe, healthy, and educationally appropriate public school facilities that are sustainable and fiscally sound.

Tool: PK-12 Reopening WorkbookA detailed list of over 100 tasks organized according to achieving public health in schools objectives, that can be modified for individual state, district or school application.

Tool: Budget Estimates WorkbookA detailed list of the reopening tasks with budget estimates and formulas that can be modified for a school, district, region, or state. Improvements and updates will be made regularly.

Tool: Reopen Scenario WorkbookThis workbook has various scenarios from all offsite education delivery for PK-12 grades to scenarios with 20%, 40%, 60%, 80% and 100% utilization of school facilities. Each scenario set is divided by grade bands for early childhood, elementary, middle, and high school. The user should fill the worksheets with descriptions and impacts of each scenario based on local conditions.

Tool: Map and Summary of State School Reopening GuidanceCompiled in partnership with UC Berkeley's Center for Cities + Schools, this map provides brief summaries of and links to school reopening guidance released by each state.

Webinars: Operationalizing Reopening SchoolsNCSF parterned with Cooperative Strategies, a national school planning firm, to host a series of webinars on reopening schools. Webinars focus mainly on health and safety issues related to the use and condition of facilities, grounds, and buses.

Setting up Outdoor Learning Spaces on School Campuses

National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative. Led by Green Schoolyards America in partnership with The Lawrence Hall of Science, San Mateo County Office of Education, and Ten Strands, the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative shares frameworks, strategies, and guidance on outdoor learning for school districts across the country.

Guide to Advocating for Outdoor Classrooms in Coronavirus-Era School Reopening. Developed by the North American Association for Environmental Education and National Wildlife Federation.

HVAC & Mechanical Systems: University of California - Davis Western Cooling Efficiency Center

Video Explainer: Ventilation in Schools

Report: Testing, Adjusting and Balancing HVAC Systems: An Overview of Certification Agencies. May 12, 2020

Report: Proposed Ventilation and Energy Efficiency Verification/Repair Program for School Reopening. UC Davis Energy and Efficiency Institute and NEMI (National Energy Management Institute) White Paper on Ventilation Verification and Optimization in Educational Facilities. This paper presents a proposal for a Ventilation and Energy Efficiency Verification/Repair Program that would prepare schools for reopening during the COVID-19 crisis.


Ventilation and filtration provided by heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2 and thus the risk of transmission through the air. With more than 54,000 members from over 132 nations, ASHRAE is a diverse organization dedicated to advancing the arts and sciences of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration to serve humanity and promote a sustainable world.

Rhode Island Department of Education Facility Reopening Guidance

Tool: Back to School RI: COVID-19 Facilities and Physical Plant Guidance to Reopen Rhode Island’s Elementary and Secondary Schools

Tool: COVID-19 Facilities and Physical Plant School Checklist

Public School Facilities Planning in the Era of COVID-19 Guide

Developed by Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools.

School bus safety during the COVID-19 pandemic: 8 recommendations

Created by Jesse Capecelatro, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan who studies the flow physics of particles and droplets.



Image icons from Noun Project by Nociconist (school building), ProSymbols (AC), and monkik (all others)