Good indoor ventilation and a vape-free environment are essential for reducing the risk of COVID-19 in schools.
Optimal air quality has also been shown to improve student performance.
Schools should have a plan to deter student vaping, like installing vape detectors and providing quitting resources. Schools can also hire an HVAC professional to assess indoor air quality.
With live school in session for many – and COVID-19 on the rise across the country – some schools may be looking for ways to improve the health of their learning environments. Research shows that good indoor ventilation and a vape-free environment are two new important considerations to prevent COVID-19 transmission.
Why is indoor ventilation important in schools?
COVID-19, along with other viruses, spreads through respiratory droplets released into the air when you talk, cough, or sneeze. These droplets can then land in the mouths or noses of people nearby and get inhaled into the lungs. That’s why staying at least six feet apart from a person is vital in preventing the spread of the virus.
Because maintaining social distancing in schools can be a challenge, quality indoor ventilation is even more critical. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as expert advice in a recent National Public Radio (NPR) interview, recommend that schools assess their
ventilation systems to ensure optimized airflow in each classroom.
There are also additional benefits to breathing in clean air. A healthy learning environment has been shown to improve student performance. One study found that good indoor air quality improved students’ standardized test scores by two to four percent. Another found that it resulted in fewer absences from illness among elementary school students and teachers.
Does vaping increase the risk of COVID-19? How does vaping affect indoor air quality?
Teens and young adults who use e-cigarettes are five to seven times more likely to test positive for COVID-19, according to a recent Stanford University study. Vaping damages lung health, making students more susceptible to infection and severe COVID-19 symptoms if they get the virus.
Also, the very act of vaping itself poses a threat. When a student vapes, they breathe out toxic chemicals and lung secretions that may contain the virus. Vaping devices also collect bacteria that can spread from one student to another when shared.
Lastly, e-cigarette aerosol is a significant source of indoor air pollution, exposing vapors and bystanders to hazardous chemicals.
How can I improve ventilation in my school environment?
The CDC recommends consulting with Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) professionals to ensure your school’s systems are working correctly. It also suggests:
Keeping windows open to let fresh air in, depending on the specific building design.
Ensuring restroom exhaust fans work at full capacity.
Inspecting and maintaining local exhaust ventilation in areas, such as restrooms, kitchens and cooking areas.
Using portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan and filtration systems, especially in higher-risk areas like the nurse’s office and special education classrooms.
You can also deter vaping inside your school by installing vape detectors and helping your students to quit.
By Kristin Barton, MA, CHES
Reviewed by Cindy Bistany, DHSc
1. American Lung Association. (n.d.). What’s in an E-Cigarette? Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/quit-smoking/e-cigarettes-vaping/whats-in-an-e-cigarette
2. American Lung Association. (2020, March 27). What You Need to Know About Smoking, Vaping and COVID-19. Retrieved from: https://www.lung.org/blog/smoking-and-covid19
3. Annesi-Maesano, I., Baiz, N., Banerjee, S., Rudnai, P., Rive, S., & Group, T. S. (2013). Indoor Air Quality and Sources in Schools and Related Health Effects. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, 16(8), 491-550. doi:10.1080/10937404.2013.853609. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24298914/
4. Bourouiba L. Turbulent Gas Clouds and Respiratory Pathogen Emissions: Potential Implications for Reducing Transmission of COVID-19. JAMA. 2020 May 12;323(18):1837-1838. Retrieved from:
5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, July 31). How to Protect Yourself & Others. Retrieved August 29, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html
6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, August 21). Operating schools during COVID-19: CDC’s Considerations. Retrieved August 29, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/k-12-guidance.html
7. Collaborative for High Performance Schools. (2020, June). School Ventilation for COVID-19. Retrieved August 29, 2020, from https://chps.net/knowledge-library
8. Gaiha, S. M., Cheng, J., & Halpern-Felsher, B. (2020). Association Between Youth Smoking, Electronic Cigarette Use, and Coronavirus Disease 2019. Journal of Adolescent Health. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2020.07.002 Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1054139X20303992?via%3Dihub
9. Gotts, J. E., Jordt, S., Mcconnell, R., & Tarran, R. (2019). What are the respiratory effects of e-cigarettes? The BMJ, L5275. doi:10.1136/bmj.l5275. Retrieved from: https://www.bmj.com/content/366/bmj.l5275.long
10. Kamenetz, A., Neighmond, P., Greenhalgh, J., Aubrey, A., & Wroth, C. (2020, August 06). How Safe Is Your School’s Reopening Plan? Here’s What To Look For. Retrieved August 29, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/08/06/897295450/how-safe-is-your-schools-reopening-plan-here-s-what-to-look-for
11. Mahabee-Gittens, E. M., Merianos, A. L., & Matt, G. E. (2020). Letter to the Editor Regarding: “An Imperative Need for Research on the Role of Environmental Factors in Transmission of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)” - Secondhand and Thirdhand Smoke As Potential Sources of COVID-19. Environmental science & technology, 54(9), 5309–5310. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.0c02041
12. Masadeh MM, Hussein EI, Alzoubi KH, Khabour O, Shakhatreh MA, Gharaibeh M. Identification, characterization and antibiotic resistance of bacterial isolates obtained from waterpipe device hoses. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2015;12(5):5108–15. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4454957/
13. Mendell, M.J., Eliseeva, E.A., Davies, M.M., Spears, M., Lobscheid, A., Fisk, W.J. and Apte, M.G. (2013), Association of classroom ventilation with reduced illness absence: a prospective study in California elementary schools. Indoor Air, 23: 515-528. https://doi:10.1111/ina.12042 . Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ina.12042
14. Ries, J. (2020, April 13). The Scary Relationship Between Vaping And Coronavirus. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/vaping-and-coronavirus-symptoms-complications_l_5e94649cc5b6765e95646a6f
15. Schober, W., Szendrei, K., Matzen, W., Osiander-Fuchs, H., Heitmann, D., Schettgen, T., . . . Fromme, H. (2014). Use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) impairs indoor air quality and increases FeNO levels of e-cigarette consumers. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 217(6), 628-637. doi:10.1016/j.ijheh.2013.11.003. Retrieved from: