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How are Illinois schools preparing for the next COVID-flu season? 

A close up of a MERV-13 air filter.
Low-income school districts nationwide have struggled to maintain clean air filters, which must be replaced every six months.

SPRINGFIELD — One of the most in-demand products at schools right now are air purifiers. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health said they will spend $30 million on portable air purifiers for low-income schools. Each comes with a two year supply of filters. 

“Within a day of announcing, hundreds of districts had already responded,” said IDPH Chief of Testing Charles Williams.

Williams said the high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) purifiers will help prevent outbreaks of COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza. 

Last fall, the three respiratory illnesses combined to fill pediatric hospital beds

“We hope we don’t see what we saw last fall, but at least this will help us reduce in-school transmission,” Williams said.

The state will use leftover money from the American Rescue Plan Act to send purifiers to almost 3,000 schools statewide. It was originally earmarked for COVID testing, but the demand for that has decreased, Williams said. 

IDPH is targeting low-income schools as identified by the Illinois State Board of Education funding formula. The department is also adding private schools with high percentages of low-income students and districts in highly polluted areas. 

Until the COVID-19 pandemic, low-income districts struggled to maintain clean air filters, which are supposed to be replaced every six months. This can worsen students’ asthma and increase absenteeism

IDPH will send one portable unit for every twenty students in a school. Williams hopes the two year supply of filters will reduce barriers to keeping them clean and that the state will identify new funding for similar projects in the future.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter@amihatt.

Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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