Carlsbad Municipal Schools continue to take measures to keep students and staff safe from COVID-19 by maintaining air quality and regularly sanitizing buildings.
School districts that receive relief funds from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, and the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Fund (ESSER III) are allowed to use the funds to keep classrooms clean and improve air quality to help reduce the spread of the virus.
CMS Director of Operations Kevin Dillon said the district already upgraded the district’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC) with MERV 13 filters, which are able to capture virus particles.
The district spent $425,000 last year to upgrade filters in all the district’s schools and buildings, including the administration office, Dillon said.
One million dollars from the $8.3 million ESSER III funds will be used to replace filters—which is done every three to six months—and maintain improvements, he explained.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend improving ventilation systems as part of a layered approach to reduce exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
According to the CDC the concentration of viral particles is often higher indoors, but increasing ventilation and improving air quality can help reduce the amount of these particles in a building.
“In addition to ventilation improvements, the layered approach includes physical distancing, wearing face masks, hand hygiene and vaccination,” the CDC stated on its website.
CMS will also set aside $200,000 from the ESSER III fund to purchase sanitation supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE) and to hire professional cleaners.
Dillon said the cleaning services are used in case of a rapid response, which alerts the district that at least one person tested positive for COVID-19 within 24 hours, to disinfect the classes that person was in.
He said this includes cleaning, closing off the area and using disinfectant foggers.
The district also regularly sprays surfaces such as desks, door handles and playground equipment, with an antimicrobial coating that kills viruses and bacteria over an extended period of time.
The district plans to replace outdated HVAC units at the Early Childhood Education Center, PR Leyva Carlsbad Intermediate School (CIS) and Carlsbad High School’s art building.
Dillon said it will cost the district about $2 million for the replacements, which will be paid for with bond funds from the Public School Buildings Act and Public School Improvements Act.
Even with these planned upgrades, Carlsbad schools may still have challenges addressing indoor air quality.
“Currently we have about approximately $4 million worth of units that are getting close to, or are close to, the end of their life and are need of replacement,” Dillon said.
He said the district is dealing with delays in equipment and supply shipments caused by the pandemic.
Large shipments for items like new HVAC units would normally take six to eight weeks to be delivered, but Dillon said the slowdown in manufacturing has extended that to 12 to 18 weeks.
“We’re just trying to stay ahead of it as much as we can to try to keep PPE items, you know, like masks, gloves and stuff like that in stock, which is a challenge in itself,” Dillon said.
Claudia Silva is a reporter from the UNM Local Reporting Fellowship. She can be reached at [email protected], by phone at 575-628-5506 or on Twitter @thewatchpup.