New York Times Bungles Page One School Ventilation Story through Lazy Reporting

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

The Sunday New York Times has me banging my head on my desk again:

As you can see, in the printed version of the Times, “Covid Closed the Nation’s Schools. Cleaner Air Can Keep Them Open” is laid out in the top right corner of the front pages; that makes it the “lead story” for that day (a Sunday, as it happens, the day that tens of thousands of Acela Corridor readers are settling into their summer deckchairs with a couple of pounds of newsprint for a solid afternoon of PMC hive mind thought before moving on to the Crossword puzzle. And possibly the recipe).

A shame, then, that the story is mediocre at best, at a time when we need excellence so very badly (the same slovenly operational incapability from the County of Los Angeles Public Health Department had me banging my head on my desk yesterday). Perhaps, after three years and counting of Covid, we should be grateful for any content that isn’t outright eugenicist. In the first part of this post, I’ll quote the portions of the story that I am, in fact, grateful for; material that, in a phrase that’s all over everything these days, “what to know.” In the second part, I will do a closer reading of the text, revealing material that’s sloppy, haphazard, poorly sourced, and superficial; in a word, lazy.

Here are the paragraphs I am grateful for; truths that New York Times readers can accept as true:

Ventilation means good air quality, and good air quality is good.

[T]he problem is bigger than the coronavirus. Indoor air may be contaminated not just by pathogens, but also by a range of pollutants like carbon monoxide, radon and lead particles. Concentrations can be five times higher or more indoors than they are outdoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.


[D]ecades of research have suggested that improving air quality also can raise academic performance, increase test scores, bolster attention and memory, and decrease absences due to illness or other factors.

We would not accept drinking water that is full of pathogens and looks dirty,”” said Linsey Marr, an expert in airborne transmission of viruses at Virginia Tech. “”But we’ve been living with air that is full of pathogens and dirty.””

There’s big money out there for improving ventilation.

[T]here have never been more resources available for the task: nearly $200 billion, from an array of pandemic-related measures, including the American Rescue Plan Act. Another $350 billion was allotted to state and local governments, some of which could be used to improve ventilation in schools.

Mysterious, unnamed forces prevent big money from being spent on ventilation.

Schoolchildren are heading back to classrooms by the tens of millions now, yet much of the funding for such improvements is sitting untouched in most states.

Among the reasons: a lack of clear federal guidance on cleaning indoor air, no senior administration official designated to oversee such a campaign, few experts to help the schools spend the funds wisely, supply chain delays for new equipment, and insufficient staff to maintain improvements that are made.

Some school officials simply may not know that the funds are available. “”I cannot believe the amount of money that is still unspent,”” Dr. [Joseph] Allen said. “”It’s really frustrating.””

How odd! One can only wonder why that might be. However, if one believes that the Biden Administration’s Covid policy can be described in the following points, then everything falls into place, and there’s no reason to think this administration would support a mitigation like ventilation at all:

(1) Mass infection without mitigation

(2) Intramuscular injection of vaccines

(3) Hospitalization and death as only metrics that matter

There is also a fourth point:

(4) PMC who support this program are hegemonic, hence amplified; the exceptional others are at best ignored and at worst ostracized or attacked. (This applies to the media, academe, medical professionals, the political class, and agencies like CDC; NIH; HHS, etc.)

I can’t help but wonder whether the article’s thin sourcing on airborne transmission is due to some similar dynamic[1]. 

Now let us turn to the fun part: A close reading of five passages. I will go passage by passage, indenting quotes from the article, prepending “NYT,” and adding lettered notes yellow wader-style, thus: “[A]”.

(1) Masking omitted from discussion of CDC study

NYT The coronavirus is an airborne threat, and the incidence of Covid was about 40 percent lower[A] in schools that improved air quality, one study found.

And below:

NYT Researchers at the C.D.C. and the Georgia Department of Public Health surveyed 169 elementary schools[B] in Georgia at the end of 2020, after in-person learning had resumed in the state.

Schools that improved ventilation had 39 percent fewer Covid cases, compared with schools that had not. Schools that combined better ventilation with filtration had 48 percent fewer cases.

[A], [B]. Confusingly, the links in the two paragraphs are both links to the same CDC study. The study concludes:

This study highlighted the importance of masking and ventilation for preventing SARS-CoV-2 transmission in elementary schools and revealed important opportunities for increasing their use among schools. A multicomponent approach to school COVID-19 prevention efforts is recommended (2), and requirements for universal and correct mask use among teachers and staff members and improved ventilation are two important strategies that could reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission as schools continue, or return to, in-person learning.

Why does the reporter erase masking?[2]

(2) Masking omitted from discussion of Italian study

NYT A large study of schools in Italy estimated that students in classrooms equipped with ventilation systems or devices that deliver clean air had an at least 74 percent lower risk of infection than students in classrooms with open windows[C].

[C] Yes, but the baseline for the study is other non-pharmaceutical interventions also practiced by Italian schools. From the study:

[D]uring the observation period, protective measures were adopted in Italian schools for students such as distancing, use of personal protective equipment (masks), and frequent opening of windows and doors to improve ventilation.

Once again, the reporter erases masking. Why? This is important not merely because masks are an important part of the story, even in schools, and so erasing them is wrong. More importantly, I believe that a strategy of layered projection (“Swiss Cheese Strategy”) is best, and it makes no sense at all to omit a layer.

(3) Corsi-Rosenthal boxes are better and cheaper than air purifiers, but are omitted

NYT C.D.C. researchers have estimated that air purifiers[D] may decrease the exposure to aerosols — tiny floating droplets that might contain virus — by up to 65 percent.

[D] Corsi-Rosenthal Boxes (see NC here and here) are better than HEPA filter units. From Jim Rosenthal:

All DIY air cleaners outperformed the commercial HEPA. This is not a surprise. We have seen the same thing in all of our head-to-head comparisons. At last count there are 13 other peer-reviewed studies that have found the same thing. How can air cleaners using MERV 13 filters that are 50% effective on particles less than 1 um do better at removing sub-micron sized particles than a HEPA filter that is 99.97% efficient on these same particles? The answer is that filter effectiveness is not determined just by filter efficiency. It is the combination of the filter and the flow through the filter that gives the full picture.

(Besides being better, they’re cheaper.) By omitting Corsi-Rosenthal boxes, the Times does a real disservice to readers MR SUBLIMINAL By making their environment more lethal. Further, the Times also misses an interesting social movement: Many, many people, particularly parents with schoolchildren, make the DIY Corsi-Rosenthal boxes, often by mass producing them, and give them away.

(4) CO2 is not merely a pollutant, but a proxy for shared air

NYT The research wrapped up early last year, and the results so far indicate that the network produced a 44 percent drop in carbon dioxide levels, often used as a proxy[E] for air quality.

[E] When humans exhale by breathing, talking, singing, or shouting, they exhale carbon dioxide along with bio-effluent (say, SARS-CoV-2 aerosols). When humans inhale, they inhale carbon dioxide along with bio-effluent (say, SARS-CoV-2). We cannot measure SARS-CoV-2 directly (yet), but we can use the concentration of rebreathed CO2 in a given space as a proxy for the amount of rebreathed virus. Hence, CO2 is not a proxy for “air quality.” It’s a proxy for the presence of an airborne Level Three biohazard. So either the reporter didn’t talk to the right people[1], or they did, and what those people said got lost on the cutting room floor:

The upshot is that any Times reader who owns an Aranet4 or similar device is now stupider about how it works than they were before they read this story.

(5) A classic case of “the press is never the story.”

NYT  At East High in Denver, as in the rest of America, Covid is fast receding as a priority. Mr. Oxman, the music teacher, is back full time, but the pandemic doesn’t seem to have brought many lasting changes. East High is mostly the same.

“”Things are kind of going back to the way they were[F],”” he said.

[F] Thanks to the Goebbels-level propaganda good work of so many Covid minimizers, prominent among them David Leonhardt, also of The Times. Churlish of me to mention, but there it is.


As I said, I’m glad the Times raised the issue: Good air is good, after all. But why the shoddiness at the detail level? I’m guessing that The Times likes to think of itself driving policy, not “merely” reporting the news. It’s clear that the Biden Administration’s policy on Covid is and has been social murder in the first degree miserably inadequate, as anyone who follows the science on airborne transmission must know. Hence, the desire to avoid losing any journalist’s all-important access by holding anyone — Biden, Fauci, Walensky, Zeints, Jha, Cohen, not to mention the Democrat Party generally, including the putative “left” — accountable by naming them. Hence the deliberate and consistent erasure of masking, hated by the Biden Administration, and the hegemonic factions of the PMC in particular. You don’t get to make policy by annoying important people! I’m guessing The Times, along with some activists, would like, as a first step to driving policy, to detach “indoor air quality” from the contentious and divisive topic of the airborne tranmission of SARS-CoV-2. But the repressed returns, right in the headline: “Covid Closed the Nation’s Schools.” As it will continue to do, until the next airborne pandemic replaces Covid.


[1] Allen, Marr, Hernandez, and Corsi are all good (but see note [2] on Allen). However, if you’ve been following the overthrow of droplet dogma by aerosol science — a paradigm shift sadly not complete — you will recall a seminal article that appeared in The Lancet: “Ten scientific reasons in support of airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2.” The Lancet authors are: Trisha Greenhalgh, Jose L Jimenez, Kimberly A Prather, Zeynep Tufekci, David Fisman, and Robert Schooley. The omission of Jimenez and Tufekci from the Times article is especially odd, since Jimenez is at the University of Colorado Boulder, and the reporter visited Boulder; while Tufekci actually works at the Times. Greenhalgh, Prather, and Fisman are also all eminently quotable. This matters, because anybody mentioned in a Times story has a leg up on future media appearances, being perceived as authoritative, and the #CovidIsAirborne brigade needs and deserves all the help it can get. It’s also odd that Corsi’s partner in designing and propagating the Corsi-Rosenthal box, Jim Rosenthal, is also omitted. Of course, one could argue that “air in schools” is the topic, not “air” as such. Hospital Infection Control takes a similar view, to the detriment of patients. Aerosol engineering is aerosol engineering.

[2] If masking was omitted on the advice of Joseph Allen, that should have been mentioned by the reporter.


Needless to say, schools in wealthier communities knew everything this article has to say about ventilation, and more, in 2020. See “How Ashish Jha and Rochelle Walensky of Newton, MA Protect Their Children from Covid (But not Yours).” The reporter might have mentioned this. Or even visited Newton.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Raymond Sim

    Apoorva Mandavilli has form. She was one of the first journalists I learned to hate during the pandemic.

    That happened when she referred to a scientist’s tweet as ‘fearmongering’. I’ve forgotten almost all the details now, but I do remember that they were simply stating facts that didn’t fit her narrative.

  2. ChrisRUEcon

    Nobody wants to say “COVID-19 remains a threat …” ; so of course, rhetorical contortions ensue.

    Thanks as always … on the record at the Library of Congress … for all to see decades from now.

  3. leaf

    I remember studying fit testing and ventilation when studying for my master in public health. I don’t entirely recall the reasoning but someone had worked out that 6 air changes/hour was good enough to deal with COVID. I’m sort of skeptical on any school actually turning up their ventilation that high. I know my university had to openly advertise that they only turned it up that high during regular day hours.

  4. Henry Moon Pie

    That was excellent, Lambert. Fun and infuriating at the same time.

    After reading your discussion on masking, I finally have a theory about the bizarre attitudes about masking among doctors, politicians and media. Walensky was right about the Scarlet Letter. I’d been interpreting that as the mask wearer being the bearer of the Scarlet Letter. But that never really made sense. Or could it be that masks are a Scarlet Letter for the people who were responsible for keeping diseases like Covid from killing so manyt and becoming endemic? Whenever you wear a mask, the message to even non-mask wearers is, “Covid ain’t over, baby. And somebody screwed up.” The wearing of masks is a Scarlet Letter of incompetence or worse for our PMC-ers charged with keeping the system running smoothly.

    On a second point, I noted this:

    (4) PMC who support this program are hegemonic, hence amplified; the exceptional others are at best ignored and at worst ostracized or attacked. (This applies to the media, academe, medical professionals, the political class, and agencies like CDC; NIH; HHS, etc.)

    This fits in nicely with an exceptional other I don’t like very much. The Ontario licensing authority for psychologists is requiring Jordan Peterson to undergo “social media training” to keep his psychologist’s license. A Canadian court has now declined to intervene on Peterson’s behalf. Jordan is not too happy about it. (This rant goes on about 40 minutes which is too much Jordan for me, but the first 5 were interesting.) It may not be Nazis marching in Skokie as a test of commitment to the First Amendment, but it’s close. ;)

    The response of the Canadian courts should give pause to American professionals.

  5. Jason Boxman

    Why does the reporter erase masking?[2]

    This didn’t surprise me when I read it yesterday; we all know why, of course. The best I ever expect is that one day, ventilation, as the lowest hanging fruit that allows the myth of public health as personal responsibility, might improve in public buildings. Getting masking as a cultural norm is so far beyond the pale for the Biden administration and the PMC public health establishment, I have no hope of that in my lifetime. (Granted, with Biden’s eugenicist policy of mass infection, this might be relatively short.) Protecting oneself and others with universal masking was widely derided by conservatives as liberal Democrat wankery, and then duly abandoned by liberal Democrats as non-virtuous once vaccines!! came out, “unmasking” being of course the PMC reward for good behavior, regardless of the public health implications of that reward.

    Or maybe this kind of story is somewhat of a bellwether, I uselessly hope, that continuous mass infection, year in and year out, is finally starting to rattle some in the PMC class enough to at least tiptoe around some possible solutions, however slipshod.

    But if Biden’s huge peaks of death weren’t enough to do that, maybe nothing is? Or the slow burn of continual sickness could be? I hope so. What else is going to yield policy changes? It is unclear.

    I don’t even think proof that Russia is behind this would make a difference, lol.

    1. ChrisRUEcon

      > Getting masking as a cultural norm is so far beyond the pale for the Biden administration and the PMC public health establishment, I have no hope of that in my lifetime.

      You got me thinking JB …

      Maybe beyond the mask and to something like the nasal piece of the Dune stillsuit (via

      Excerpt on its function:
      “The upcoming version of Dune is staying pretty loyal to the overall story since the nose plugs that are used as part of the suit are part of the entire system that’s designed to draw moisture from the body in order to deliver it to catch pockets that will hold usable water while the impurities are filtered out of urine and feces and redistributed as the waste materials are purged or reclaimed.”

      What if you could flip that on its head as it were, and make it something to deliver some of our usual suspects: Betadine w/IotaCarrageenan? HOCL, perhaps? Alcohol vapors?

      Who knows? But perhaps by the time we’ve run out of letters in multiple alphabets in our global petri-dish pandemic timeline, someone will have figured out something to protect our tender nasal epithelial cells from Coronavirus onslaught in a way that isn’t ripe for slander by “smile” goons.

      1. Jason Boxman

        I’ve often wondered as well about having nasal only respirators. That might please the smile time crowd, that seem to leach off people’s smiles like the Angel Smile Time episode. (Children specifically.)

  6. polar donkey

    I try offering corsi boxes to my kid’s teachers, they look at me like I’m a communist.

  7. Anon

    I didn’t think I could ever get here. “the Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself,” old people vote, more Rs than Ds are dying from infection, 75% of infections come by way of school children.

  8. SES

    While Tufekci may have been a co-author of that Lancet article, she has shamefully led a posse of pundits attacking and belittling, often in utterly juvenile terms, the work of Dr. A.J. Leonardi. He committed the sin of correctly predicting the effects of Covid on the immune system before just about anyone else with a public profile. As he’s been proven correct, Tufekci et al. have simply doubled down. She apparently has no shame and her being sidelined would be an unmitigated positive, as long as she’s not replaced in the pundit line-up with someone worse.

    Joseph Allen has also been another pandemic grifter. This comment of @wsbgnl prefacing a selection of J. Allen headlines give a good sense of him: “I can’t believe schools didn’t spend their limited pandemic funds to improve indoor air quality, says indoor air quality expert who used his regular column in the Washington Post to downplay Covid risks in kids and schools and push to view Covid as a personal responsibility issue.” He was a big mainstream liberal promoter of getting kids back to in-person school ASAP. Here’s @wsbgnl’s stream:

  9. podcastkid

    “How can air cleaners using MERV 13 filters that are 50% effective on particles less than 1 um…”

    I’ve attacked this kind of data many times, but here’s probably the place where I won’t get confused (I mean NC). This word “particle”…are we thinking mostly droplet, or dust particle, or just virus itself? If droplet, what mean size(s) [with big loads of virus] are the ones the CR boxes are so efficient at trapping?

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