We need to protect the air we breathe

By:  U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich

As someone with a background in mechanical engineering, I always believe we need to rely on science as we create solutions to the problems we face. The COVID-19 pandemic is a problem on a scale that most of us have never faced before. Many of the world’s brightest scientists are discovering new information about the virus every day. It is by definition a novel coronavirus.

Our understanding of how the virus spreads and what types of measures we should implement to mitigate its transmission will necessarily evolve as our scientific understanding improves. One thing that seems to be increasingly clear is that the virus is not solely spreading through close-range droplets. That’s what public health experts are trying to address when they call for people to avoid crowds, clean surfaces, wear masks, and maintain physical distancing.

One practical measure we should take right away is replacing old, dangerous HVAC systems and investing in other proven technologies that will help with filtering out viral particles in our indoor spaces. The first place we should do this is in our schools. The New Mexico Public Education Department is currently working with school districts all across our state to assess and upgrade air filters as part of their plans to safely restart in-person instruction. This is a step in the right direction in the context of the pandemic and also for better long-term health for students, educators, and staff.

All of our schools should be looking to upgrade their air filtration equipment and install other promising new technologies, such as UV-C light filtration. But they need funding. That's why I am calling on Congress to include resources for schools to help them improve their indoor air ventilation in the next major relief legislation we pass. I just introduced the Keeping Schools Safe Act to provide $1 billion in federal grants to help elementary and secondary schools across the country build safer and healthier indoor environments through more advanced air filtration systems.

Our public health response must be rooted in the best, and most up-to-date science if we are ever going to put an end to this pandemic and put America back on a path toward normalcy and a strong economic recovery. One element of this process has to be protecting the air we breathe.