BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Students, faculty and staff masked up for two years during the pandemic, but this new county investment aims to add another layer of protection not only against COVID, but other airborne diseases.

High-efficiency air particulate (HEPA) filters from Buffalo-based company Austin Air are on the way to every Erie County school. Students and teachers could see them in their classrooms before the end of the school year.

The new partnership was announced by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz on Twitter ahead of his State of the County address Thursday.

“It means cleaner air,” Austin Air Systems President Lauren McMillan told News 4. “Not only ridding the air of COVID, flu and other viral illnesses, but also chemical gasses and VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which improves performance.”

Austin Air Systems President Lauren McMillan said a study in California shows clean air in the classroom can lead to better test scores in subjects such as math and English. She also says clean air improves lung and overall health, as lungs continue to develop until age 25.

Michael Cornell leads the superintendents association and welcomes this new safety measure.

“Schools have been extraordinarily safe places throughout the COVID era. What these HEPA filtered air purifiers represent is an added layer of protection,” Superintendent Cornell added.

Erie County is spending millions of dollars from its Federal COVID relief money, by partnering with the local company to provide these filtration systems to all public, private and charter classrooms.

“The County had Federal money to spend. They could’ve spent it on lots of things and they chose to invest in something that makes sense for schools, which has benefit post COVID,” Superintendent Cornell continued.

Air purification took center stage during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many buildings unprepared. Erie County is taking a proactive approach now, to provide cleaner air for its youngest residents for years to come.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has really brought to the forefront air quality concerns,” McMillan said. “It is not just in public buildings, but also private buildings. I think it is really important to be a part of that solution.”

More details on the proposal will be released Thursday during the State of the County address, which will take place at the Buffalo Bills Field House.

Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.