Pharr-San Juan Alamo ISD reopened its doors earlier this semester to students who are opting for in-person instruction, and the district recently purchased several hundred air purifiers to make sure they feel safe on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We wanted to make sure that we had the best solution to be able to provide safety to our students and our teachers as they come back on campus,” Jorge Arredondo superintendent.

PSJA ISD’s Division of Operations began the installation of more than 600 iWave air purifiers in November as an additional measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. iWave is an air purifying device that can be installed in any heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system (H-VAC).

“The purpose of the purifier is to install them in all of our schools and in certain areas to ensure that we have that protection,” Arredondo said. “We know that there’s different allergens out there, there’s different viruses, different particles, bacteria that are maybe in the air, including mold. All these different things that are in the air can cause damage to us that we breathe in once we come into a building.

“So, we have our H-VAC system that we were able to outfit it and now it has these ion particles that send out an electrical charge, and that electrical charge then cleans the air. It helps purify the air. It kills mold, bacteria and viruses, including COVID-19.”

The iWave system was referred to the district by a senior member in the PSJA H-VAC department, with the district spending close to $250,000 on the system and $1.2 million on other safety procedures including personal protection equipment.

With the added air purification, Arredondo hopes that the district’s efforts to create extra layers of support and safety will reduce the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve of cases. He said the district employs about 4,500 staff and serves more than 31,000 students.

“When you include their families, we’re talking about a big impact here in the Valley,” Arredondo said. “If we can save one more person from contracting COVID-19, it’s definitely worth it. We see this as an investment for our most prized possession which is our students and our staff.  We cannot replace a life, so anything we can do to protect them, we’re going to do.”

The purifiers are expected to last up to 15 years after installation. The air cleaners are designed to filter and reduce airborne contaminants out of air when it passes through. Within 10 minutes, 84.2% of the coronavirus is inactivated and in 30 minutes 99.4% of the virus is neutralized.

When used along with other recommended practices by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), filtration can be part of a plan to reduce the potential for airborne transmission of COVID-19 indoors, keeping students safe throughout the school day on their return to campus.

“The academic school year this year has been very difficult. It’s unlike any other, but we have to look towards the positives that we’ve been able to gain,” Arredondo said. “We have close to 98% of students that are attending every day online. I think for the most part the students returning to school has been pretty good. They were happy to be on campus and I got a chance to visit several campuses. Students want to have some sense of normalcy and they want to have a place where they can actually concentrate and be able to see other individuals like themselves.”

Julisa Nevarez is a student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.