By Erica Kimmerling, OSTP Senior Policy Advisor for Public Engagement in Science
Steph Guerra, OSTP Assistant Director for Health Security and Biodefense
Georgia Lagoudas, OSTP Senior Advisor for Biotechnology and Bioeconomy
The quality of the air we breathe indoors impacts our ability to fully participate in society and live our healthiest lives. For over two years, our experience with the COVID-19 has emphasized the importance of clean indoor air as a vital tool for response and recovery — transmission can be reduced by 80% with improved indoor ventilation and air filtration. COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through the air, so improving ventilation, increasing air filtration, or disinfecting the air can “directly reduce the number of virus-containing particles in indoor air and thereby reduce the risk of inhaling these particles from shared air.”,
Cleaner and healthier indoor air does not only reduce the spread of COVID-19. Cleaner indoor air improves cognition and productivity, reduces the spread of other airborne diseases, protects against outdoor air pollutants such as smog and wildfire smoke, and decreases the number of environmental triggers for conditions like asthma and allergies.
Clean indoor air also helps advance two cornerstone commitments of the Biden-Harris Administration: equity and environmental justice. Clean indoor air offers an effective layer of protection for people with disabilities, essential workers and others who serve on the front lines of their communities, in hospitals, grocery stores, schools, and beyond. Additionally, low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to live closer to industrial facilities, or in areas with higher outdoor air pollution, all of which can contribute to reduced indoor air quality. Further, low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to face higher rates of asthma due to increase exposure to risk factors such as environmental pollution. These same communities often live, learn, and work in older buildings without good air cleaning systems. Improving indoor air quality in the most affected areas will help improve health equity and ensure all Americans lead healthier lives.
As demonstrated in the Fact Sheet– DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES COMMIT TO CLEANER INDOOR AIR ACROSS THE NATION –released today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) continues to build upon our previous work on clean air and COVID-19. Clean air benefits everyone— improved ventilation and filtration are universal design features for healthy and safe living. To take action and make changes in your community, these resources provide detailed information on the range of steps you can take:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- How to Protect Yourself & Others provides general information on improving ventilation in your home.
- Tools to Improve Ventilation details general approaches and strategies and their relative costs (like how to use fans and windows to clean the air).
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Clean Air in Buildings Challenge is a set of guiding principles and best practices to assist building owners and operators in improving indoor air quality and protecting public health.
- Air Cleaners, HVAC Filters, and Coronavirus (COVID-19) provides specific guidance on choosing portable air cleaners including technologies to be cautious of.
Improvements to indoor air quality can be made at the building-level, by upgrading HVAC systems or installing air cleaners, or on a room-by-room basis, such as opening a window, running a fan, installing germicidal ultraviolet light fixtures, or adding a portable air cleaner. Federal funds from the American Rescue Plan are able to be used for indoor air quality improvements, and $122 billion for schools and $350 billion for state, local, and Tribal governments was allocated to respond to the pandemic. These funds can be used for indoor air ventilation and filtration upgrades in schools, public buildings, local businesses, nonprofits, community centers, and other establishments. Building-level improvements will provide a long-lasting impact that can benefit everyone.
If you want to reduce risk of airborne diseases like COVID-19, or gain the benefits of clean indoor air now, portable air cleaners are effective interventions. In one study, two portable air cleaners with HEPA filters that met Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) criteria reduced exposure to simulated exhaled aerosol particles by up to 65%.  Portable air cleaners can be added to an office, a shared meeting room, a classroom, or elsewhere as part of a layered approach that includes improving building ventilation, getting vaccinated, and wearing a mask.
When selecting a portable air cleaner consider:
- Devices that are appropriately sized for the space in which they will be used;
- Units that have a high Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) for smoke (vs. pollen or dust), are a designated HEPA unit, or specifically indicate that they filter particles in the 0.1-1 um size range;
- ENERGY STAR certified products to reduce energy costs; and
- Cost-effective temporary measures such as do-it-yourself air cleaners built from HVAC filters and box fans.
Devices that use “bipolar ionization” are NOT recommended at this time. Do not use any devices that generate ozone.
For answers to questions like: What does a CADR rating on my portable air cleaner mean? How do I calculate the size of the room to pick the right air cleaner? Where should I put a portable air cleaner? See the EPA’s Guide to Air Cleaners in the Home.
It is essential that everyone knows about, has access to, and is able to implement simple interventions that improve indoor air quality. OSTP continues to work to make clean, healthy indoor air a reality for everyone. In partnership with departments and agencies across the Federal government, OSTP is working to drive technology and implement innovation in building design, indoor air quality monitors, pathogen sensors, and air cleaning technologies; establish indoor air quality as an important part of public health strategy; provide clear guidance on existing and new air ventilation, filtration, and disinfection technologies for the public; and establish the Federal buildings portfolio as an exemplar of innovation, implementation, and standards for indoor air quality. There is a coalition building across the nation for achieving clean indoor air, and it’s growing.
On October 11, the Administration hosted a White House Summit on Indoor Air Quality. You can view the recording here and learn more about the exciting actions stemming from the event. To learn more about, and commit to, the Clean Air in Buildings Pledge visit whitehouse.gov/cleanindoorair.
 Fondazione David Hume, “\Data Analysis: Controlled Mechanical Ventilation (CMV) works,” March 25, 2022, available at https://www.fondazionehume.it/data-analysis/controlled-mechanical-ventilation-cmv-works/.
Efficacy of Ventilation, HEPA Air Cleaners, Universal Masking, and Physical Distancing for Reducing Exposure to Simulated Exhaled Aerosols in a Meeting Room
 Efficacy of Portable Air Cleaners and Masking for Reducing Indoor Exposure to Simulated Exhaled SARS-CoV-2 Aerosols – United States, 2021