Sensors floated as an idea to protect school air systems from spreading COVID-19

As more of our local school districts announce they will begin the year online only, there are many questions about what is being done to eventually bring students back safely. 

One Virginia mom who is an expert in air quality is sounding an alarm tonight. 

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Serene Al-Momen is a Ph.D., George Mason professor, and CEO of Senseware. Her company installs air sensors in buildings that can monitor for virus particles along with humidity.

"Figuring out a way to remove the virus from the air as fast and as effectively as possible, in my mind is the most important in indoor spaces," said Al-Momen. "You have to stay between 40 to 60 percent of humidity in indoor spaces, so you can reduce the viability of the virus if it exists in the air."

Because of the way COVID-19 spreads, Al-Momen is very concerned she’s not hearing more about what is being done to filter the air inside schools, particularly some of the older buildings. 

She’s working with about a dozen schools and universities including St. Agnes in Arlington and says there are UV light and other technology out there that can be a big help.

Revamping an HVAC system can cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the size of the building but there are also inexpensive measures that can be taken to dramatically reduce the risk of spreading the virus in the air. 

Al-Momen says, “Social distancing and requiring a mask are all good things. I just want to know, are they bringing more outside air in, did they upgrade their filters? I just want to see more about that.”

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A spokesman for Arlington County Public Schools tells FOX 5 they are working with a consultant to evaluate the ventilation in all school buildings. 

Fairfax County Public Schools says environmental health specialists assess buildings and bring in extra filtration as needed. 

We asked officials in D.C. and the Maryland suburbs about their efforts and received a lot of information about surface cleaning and social distancing but nothing specifically about efforts to step up ventilation and air filtration inside schools.