The White House’s IAQ initiative was broadly outlined in its 97-page National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, which was issued in early March and referred to briefly by President Joe Biden in his State of the Union address.
Steps include a publicity campaign to promote ways to improve IAQ, financial assistance to state and local governments and schools for HVAC system upgrades, and a “Clean Air in Buildings Challenge” to encourage building owners and managers and building engineers to adopt strategies to improve air quality in their buildings. The plan pledges IAQ guidance and technical resources for such efforts.
“Strong ventilation practices can reduce the number of virus particles and contaminants in the air, and thereby reduce the risk of virus or disease transmission,” the plan says.
Later in March, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, a three-page document with IAQ suggestions and information resources.
The White House plan says the administration “will work with Congress to secure the necessary funding” for the initiatives; state and local governments and school districts, it says, can use American Rescue Plan money to improve air ventilation and filtration systems. The American Rescue Plan, which took effect just over a year ago, earmarked $350 billion for state and local governments and $130 million for school districts.
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) welcomed the IAQ initiative, issuing a statement pledging to lend professional expertise. ASHRAE has been actively sharing information on how to reduce airborne virus transmission since the beginning of the pandemic.
“ASHRAE addresses questions and concerns about indoor air quality and provides COVID-19 resources on a large scale,” said Mick Schwedler, the ASHRAE president, in a prepared statement. “We face a rapidly evolving landscape in the buildings industry, and ASHRAE is committed to providing solid, unbiased technical expertise, even as discussions continue and policies evolve.”
ASHRAE has developed widely recognized standards — Standards 62.1 and 62.2 — for ventilation systems and IAQ, and they are incorporated into many building codes.
Similarly, Don Davis, vice president for advocacy and building codes at the Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA), also endorsed the plan.
“We were very encouraged by the government making efforts to educate the public,” Davis said by phone.
However, Davis pointed out that improving IAQ could also lead to increased energy consumption, as air being pulled indoors may need to be heated or cooled with every exchange. “I think there’s a balance that needs to be struck,” he said.
The White House IAQ plan says that a recognition program for IAQ improvements will be established, although specifics are not addressed.