(The Center Square) – Around $30 million has been designated to distribute 60,000 HEPA air purifiers in more than 3,000 Illinois schools across the state.
Mike Claffey, of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said the agency and the governor have designated taxpayer resources from the federal Inflation Reduction Act that had been set aside for COVID-19 testing to fund the distribution of air purifiers instead. The pandemic taught the importance of good ventilation in classrooms, Claffey said.
“Cleaner air in classrooms can reduce absentee rates by preventing the circulation of respiratory viruses–including COVID,” Claffey told The Center Square. “Studies have shown that better air quality improves students’ ability to think, to learn, to read and to solve problems.”
Now that it has been three years since the COVID-19 lockdowns, the demand for COVID-19 testing in schools has dropped dramatically. IDPH decided that using the testing funds for classroom air purifiers was a more effective use of the money.
“With the [U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s] approval, we have allocated the money toward air purifiers,” Claffey said.
IDPH is working with the Illinois State Board of Education to identify schools with lower income populations and schools in areas where air quality is a problem.
“Any school in an area that has relatively high air pollution levels is also eligible,” Claffey said.
Air purifiers will be delivered to 68% of the state’s schools, including schools in Cook County – but not in Chicago, he said. Chicago schools will get air purifiers under a separate federal program.
“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from the schools,” Claffey said. “Hundreds of applications have already been submitted.”
The air purifiers could also help prevent asthma attacks.
“Asthma is the most common chronic disease found in children today. Air purification reduces the presence of asthma triggers in schools,” Claffey said.