How did they do it? Some Savannah-area schools report few or zero COVID cases

By Barbara AugsdorferPosted Sep 8, 2020 at 9:22 AM   

Savannah-area schools that have at least partially reopened to in-person instruction all seem to have several things in common — cohorts of students learning together, hybrid models of in-person and virtual learning, and new air-purification additions to their HVAC systems. All these strategies are part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for a safe reopening of schools. These guidelines are available on the CDC website at

Some people might think that schools are just large petri dishes of germs waiting to spread, and parents don’t want “my child to be a guinea pig.” However, scientific success never comes about without testing. So…

Savannah Classical Academy installed a plasma ionization system into vents servicing the common areas of the school. Savannah Country Day School installed a needlepoint ionization air purification system. Benedictine Military School also installed an ionization air-purification system.

All three schools offered students a choice among in-person learning, a hybrid model, or 100% online learning before the first day of school.

Mallie Seckinger, founder of Pooler-based American Ion, which provided the system to Benedictine Military School, explained that the ionization system totally and continuously purifies indoor air. It reduces the threat of viruses, bacteria, mold, allergens, and other contaminants in the air and on surfaces by releasing positively and negatively charged ions which are delivered through the natural airflow of heating and air conditioning systems inside the buildings. The ions seek out and attach themselves to the harmful contaminants and break them down into their natural compounds — hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. The continuous sanitizing process is 100% natural and safe — it uses no chemicals and produces no harmful by-products such as ozone or ultraviolet light.

Savannah Classical Academy has reported no positive COVID-19 cases so far in the first two weeks of school. SCA is the only Savannah-area public charter school to offer the choice of in-person learning.

“Things are going very well. Our students are very compliant with our protocols,” said Barry Lollis, SCA’s executive director. “We have had no COVID-positive cases here for students or staff. Our families are taking [COVID-prevention procedures] very seriously.”

He added that of the school’s 400 students, 180 are on campus every day, and that the zero-rate of COVID cases is mainly due to the school’s small size. But still, the potential for exposure and spread is there. Even so, “Some of our families started virtual and switched to on-campus. [Our] families saw that we were stringent with our protocols,” Lollis explained. “They felt comfortable to send their children on campus because we’re doing everything we can to ensure a safe environment.”

According to Lollis, during the summer the school’s administration team researched best practices for school reopening.

“We took a very close look at the reopening guidelines from [the Georgia] Department of Health and the CDC,” he said. One of those guidelines suggests improving air-filtration systems and/or increasing use of outdoor learning spaces when weather permits.

″[Ladson, South Carolina-based] Carolina Chillers gave us a good price [for the plasma ionization devices]. We already had them under a preventative-maintenance contract,” Lollis said. “The devices were installed in all the common areas of the school — kitchen, dining hall, and hallways.” He added that the devices for those areas cost $10,000.

Sports at SCA

In addition to a new normal school day, Lollis said, “We had our first athletic event Tuesday. Our volleyball team played Savannah Arts Academy and Savannah High School,” he said. He added that he’s hopeful that SCCPSS is moving closer to reopening the schools if COVID cases continue to decline. “The district did provide transportation for athletic events, [and we’re] only playing schools that are local. Our athletes compete wearing [face] masks.”