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Could SU Research Help Schools Find Safe Way to Bring Back Students & Teachers?

  Schools around Central New York are grappling with decisions about how to bring students and teachers back to classrooms safely – if at all.  Some new research out of Syracuse University could give them effective guidelines, if they’re willing to follow through.  Doctor Eric Schiff is interim Director of the Center of Excellence for Environmental and Energy Systems


He finds the right combination of mask-wearing and ventilation could greatly reduce coronavirus infections, even in a case with a so-called super-spreader.  The first key would be to strictly enforce a mask policy.

“It needs to be everybody because you don’t know which kid is asymptomatic or sick, there’s just no easy way to know that. So that kid, most important of all, needs to be wearing a mask so he doesn’t spread his own disease”

The second part is to improve ventilation so that classroom air is exchanged with clean air several times a day, or even an hour.  Schiff cites an example where an infected person rode on an airplane flight, during which no one else became sick.

"An airplane has better ventilation than a classroom is likely to have, and it’s likely that people on the airplane were doing a better job with masking because they felt at risk than students who are bored with all of this.”              

Credit Eric A. Schiff, Ph.D.
A graph in Schiff's research paper shows the likelihood of infection, given ccertain levels of ventilatoin and different types of mask-wearing behavior.

He adds there’s no perfect protection.  And suggests most schools would not have the ability or funding to replace ventilation systems or add air filters to all classrooms.  However, Schiff concludes infection rates could be reduced to a level that would help schools continue some in-person learning

“If the teacher is able to enforce good masking, meaning all the students are wearing masks, they all fit, there’s no joking around, and the ventilation is above what is normal in schools, then you’re probably gonna survive with one or two cases or something like that which in my opinion would not cause the school to have to close.” 

Parents could also help by ensuring kids take mask-wearing seriously, while also checking with school administrators about improving their schools’ air quality. 

Further reading into Doctor Schiff’s research can be found at this hyperlink.