The New York City public schools that rely solely on open windows and portable air purifiers have seen 23% more COVID-19 cases per students and a 29% increase in staff case rates when compared to buildings with stronger ventilation, such as HVAC systems, according to a new WNYC/Gothamist investigation.
The findings raise new concerns about the adequacy of dozens of public schools as winter approaches and schools struggle to deal with aging buildings amid the pandemic. The data also suggests that school officials purchased inadequate air purifiers and are over relying on them to help combat the airborne virus — an issue raised in a previous WNYC/Gothamist investigation.
Starting in summer 2020, the city purchased two air purifiers for every classroom from a Manhattan-based startup named Delos Living and its upstate partner Intellipure — a choice officials strongly backed ahead of the school year, even though the devices lack HEPA filters, the industry benchmark for air cleaning.
In interviews with WNYC/Gothamist, independent engineers warned of relying too heavily on the Intellipure purifiers and open windows, which city officials countered were adequate in reducing the risk of COVID-19 spread.
To learn why Intellipure air purifiers were selected for classrooms, WNYC/Gothamist has discovered that New York City’s Department of Education (DOE) got those devices for a bargain, according to contracts obtained via Freedom of Information requests.