GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is extending a program designed to improve air quality in schools.

In December 2022, the Safe Schools Indoor Air Ventilation Program was launched in Michigan.

“It was actually a program that started off as COVID testing, soon it became over-the-counter tests that kids were able to take home in that backpacks,” said Natasha Bagdasarian, chief medical executive for the State of Michigan.

As it evolved, the state began providing free portable air purifiers to K-12 schools. Bagdasarian says the initiative is crucial, as not every building has resources like A/C.

“I think there were many schools that upgraded their entire air-handling systems during COVID, but there were some that couldn’t and so this is really an added benefit for schools that think they could benefit from portable air purifier units,” Bagdasarian said.

In May, the CDC changed its guidelines for air exchanges in schools, which is the number of times that air in a space is replaced, to five times per hour.

In response, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is extending the air purifier program to place more of the machines in schools.

“The last few years have been very difficult on families but importantly on children, so keeping them in the classroom as much as possible, avoiding sick days, making sure that we are supporting children in whatever way we can is very important,” Bagdasarian said.

She said it not only helps mitigate COVID-19 but now there are additional challenges like wildfire smoke as the school year nears.

“This is also something that could potentially, for example, help a child with asthma, help a child with allergies, removing pollen from the air,” Bagdasarian said.

Since its inception, the program has provided more than 42,000 air purifiers to 451 districts, and that number will now grow.

“There are all kinds of benefits to air purifiers in a classroom-type setting, and in general improving ventilation,” Bagdasarian said.

Schools can apply for air purifiers by filling out the MI Safe Schools Indoor Air Ventilation Program Request Form.

As students get ready to return to the classroom, Bagdasarian also says routine immunization rates for diseases like measles and mumps dropped significantly during the pandemic.

She said now is a good time of year to check with a healthcare provider to see if your child needs any vaccines.