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IDPH Providing Air Purifiers to Improve Air Quality in Illinois Head Start Classrooms

News – Monday, June 5, 2023

Public Health Agency is also Providing COVID-19 Antigen Tests; Schools with Clean Air Record Fewer Sick Students and Improved Academic Performance

CHICAGO – Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) announced today that the state will be providing more than 1,000 HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) purifiers to Illinois Head Start and Early Head Start programs around the state to help reduce the transmission of respiratory viruses, including COVID-19.

In the coming weeks, IDPH will begin delivery of approximately 1,090 air purifiers that will be distributed among 45 different Head Start programs throughout the state, including Cook County with the exception of Chicago. The state is also delivering a three-year supply of replacement filters for the purifiers and 225,000 COVID-19 rapid antigen tests to the Head Start and Early Head Start programs for distribution to their staff and families served.

IDPH is coordinating the $2 million investment with the Illinois Head Start Association, which supports the federally funded program that works to prepare children from low-income families to succeed in school from birth to age five. The effort builds on a previously announced IDPH program to provide HEPA air purifiers to K-12 schools throughout Illinois and is funded through the  CDC’s Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Prevention and Control (ELC) Reopening Schools funding.

Last month, the CDC released new guidelines for indoor ventilation that set a specific target for the first time. The new guidelines call for at least five air changes per hour, meaning the equivalent of all the air in a room is replaced five or more times within an hour.

“The health and well-being of our youngest children is a top priority for my administration,” Governor Pritzker said.  “By providing the means to maintain good air quality in Head Start classrooms we can prevent illnesses and absences for both children and teachers and also improve children’s ability to learn and develop critical skills.”

“I have devoted much of my career to protecting and promoting the health of children,” said IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra, a pediatrician.  “The last few years have taught us the critical importance of good ventilation in preventing the indoor transmission of viruses and keeping children and adults safe from respiratory illnesses.  These HEPA air purifiers are an important investment in our children’s present and future.  I am very excited that the State of Illinois will provide tools to keep these very young kids served by Head Start healthy and in class, helping them develop, learn, and grow.”

“Illinois’ Head Start program is dedicated to providing a healthy and safe classroom environment for the children we serve,” said Head Start Association Executive Director Lauri Morrison-Frichtl. “By improving ventilation with air purifiers, we can keep kids in the classroom and accomplish our mission of preparing these very young children to learn and succeed in the years to come.”

IDPH is launching an enrollment process that allows Head Start and Early Head Start grant recipients to submit orders for portable HEPA air purifiers. The eligible grant recipients will be contacted directly with information about how many purifiers that their sites are eligible to receive. The portable air purifiers will be delivered by mid-July. Grantees will generally be eligible for one small unit for each classroom, with a limited number of larger units available for sites that serve more students.

Studies show that cleaner air can reduce absentee rates, and improve students’ abilities to think, learn, read and solve math problems.

Last year IDPH issued ventilation guidance to educate the community on the impact of ventilation systems and to provide information about low cost and DIY interventions for ventilation upgrades.