COVID-19 has significantly impacted student learning across the nation. With face-to-face interactions spreading the virus, many educational institutions were forced to abruptly close their physical doors at the onset of the pandemic. Educators then launched remote learning curriculums in hopes of keeping their students, faculty and staff out of harm's way.

As we learn more about the virus and how to better prevent spread, schools and universities are brainstorming inventive ways to get students back into the classroom. One such solution is needlepoint bipolar ionization (NPBI®) technology, which inactivates pathogens, in turn improving indoor air quality.

Creating a Safer Environment for Students, Faculty and Staff

The University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNC Pembroke), a public higher education institution with more than 8,200 students in eastern North Carolina, is one such program dedicated to improving its air quality – and thereby, decreasing the transmission of COVID-19.

“At UNC Pembroke, the mental, physical and emotional health of our students, faculty and staff is extremely important to us. One way we support wellness is by creating a healthy physical environment,” said Kevin Witmore, one of the university’s project managers of facilities, planning, design and construction. “Our mission to improve the campus’s physical environment ultimately led us to Global Plasma Solutions (GPS). We saw their needlepoint bipolar ionization technology as a great way to give people cleaner, safer indoor air to breathe.”

The patented NPBI technology creates ions like those found in nature and introduces them into a building’s airstream through existing heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. When the ions are pushed out into a room, they find and attach to particles in the air. Once particle clusters reach a certain size, they become more easily trapped by the HVAC system’s air filter.

Hoffman & Hoffman, UNC Pembroke’s longtime mechanical system consultant and provider, recommended NPBI technology as an effective and fiscally responsible solution for the university. They shared success stories of schools, hospitals and other customers that had embraced the solution as an additional component of their COVID-19 response plan.

When UNC Pembroke looked at the data, they were quickly hooked. Over a two-week period, a local contractor placed modular GPS-iMOD® air purification devices in more than 75% of campus buildings including the student union, the cafeteria, classrooms, the gym and the library.

The GPS-iMOD product, an example of NPBI technology suited to applications including schools and universities as well as health care and office buildings, helps reduce the number of particles and pathogens in the air. The system begins removing fumes and odors within 48 hours. It’s also energy-efficient: Customers report up to 30% in energy savings following installation, as the product reduces outdoor air intake and pressure loss by keeping HVAC coils clean.

“The technology is truly ahead of its time,” Witmore said. “Soon after installation (at UNC Pembroke), it significantly reduced the particle count in the affected buildings.”

Another bonus? Witmore said that because some devices are self-cleaning, the university won’t have to dedicate as much time or resources to ongoing cleaning and maintenance.

Tackling an Unprecedented Pandemic, One Solution at a Time

“We had no idea what 2020 would bring,” Witmore said. “Thanks in part to NPBI technology, our school was able to stay open and operational during the pandemic, unlike many other universities. The people who prefer in-person learning are really thankful for that.”

While UNC Pembroke helped lead the way, the coronavirus, of course, has pushed many schools to give indoor air quality solutions a closer look. In addition to social distancing, masks, handwashing stations and other measures, many institutions are learning that their existing HVAC system can provide an additional layer of safety.

“The focus on indoor air quality that’s sweeping the nation stems largely from COVID-19,” Witmore said. “Everything today is about the coronavirus. We’re all racing to create a safer environment.”

Luckily for Witmore and the thousands of people who make up the UNC Pembroke community, they can rest assured that their shared spaces are protected by a proven process to clean the air.

“We’re all breathing a little easier knowing this technology exists and is helping make our environment as clean and safe as possible,” he said.

Learn more about how schools and universities are ensuring their campus communities have cleaner, safer indoor air to breathe.