The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is launching a program that will distribute over 60,000 HEPA air purifiers to more than 3,000 Illinois schools to help reduce the transmission of respiratory viruses, including COVID-19. The $29.6 million program is funded by the CDC through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and is aimed at school districts serving lower-income communities and counties with elevated air pollution counts.
IDPH estimates that the program will cover 68 percent of school districts in the state, excluding Chicago, which received a separate federal grant. The portable air purifiers will be delivered to school districts in the coming months. Schools will generally be eligible for one small air filter unit for each 20 students in a school, with a limited number of larger units for districts with more than 1,000 students.
The program aims to provide students with a healthy learning environment, regardless of their zip code or income level. IDPH believes that providing schools with air purifiers can significantly reduce the transmission of respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, the flu, and RSV, and reduce absences related to illness.
Studies have shown that cleaner air can improve students’ abilities to think, learn, read, and solve math problems, as well as reduce absentee rates. IDPH issued ventilation guidance last year to educate the community on the impact of ventilation systems and to provide information about low-cost and DIY interventions for ventilation upgrades.
The enrollment process for the program will be coordinated with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), and eligible school districts will be contacted directly with information about how many purifiers they are eligible to receive. Questions from school administrators should be directed to the IDPH Air Purifier Project Inbox at DPH.AirPurify@illinois.gov.
Governor JB Pritzker expressed his commitment to keeping Illinoisans safe and healthy, especially children, and praised the program’s impact on children’s ability to think and learn. IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra, a pediatrician, called the program a significant investment in children’s health and education, while State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tony Sanders emphasized that a child’s health and attendance are inextricably tied to their ability to learn.