Sixty New Brunswick schools still do not have a built-in mechanical ventilation system as students and teachers prepare to resume in-person classes next week, with 137 active cases of COVID-19 across the province and thousands of unvaccinated young people.
Air quality tests carried out at these schools in recent months have been “within the safe range and have not shown any reason for health problems,” the ministry spokesperson said. Education, Flavio Nienow.
Engineering assessments were also conducted to determine the feasibility of adding ventilation systems to these buildings, Nienow said. Installation in some schools is expected to start in 2022, he said.
The ministry works with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to develop the project requirements and budget for each school, based on a priority list.
“Due to the considerable work required, this will be a multi-year program. As such, annual funding decisions will be made as part of the capital budget process,” Nienow said in a statement sent by email.
“In the meantime, we continue to work with the districts to promote healthy air circulation.”
Unlike the 234 schools in the province that have integrated ventilation systems, these schools must instead rely on opening doors and windows to circulate the air.
The ministry began the review earlier this year, based on the recommendation of a working group made up of representatives from public health, WorkSafeNB, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and the Ministry of Education.
The lack of a ventilation system has also been an ongoing concern for some parents, “magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote David Greenfield, chair of the school’s parent school support committee, in a statement. pre-education letter from Anglophone School District West. advice.
A heat wave that forced schools to close earlier this summer further underscored the problem. Fans are not allowed inside schools due to concerns about the spread of air particles during the pandemic.
Education Minister Dominic Cardy was asked on social media on Tuesday why the province was not following recommendations from the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which calls, between others, to use “safe fans to increase the efficiency of open windows.”
Cardy responded by saying that Health Canada has been “much more careful about small units in the bedroom.” New Brunswick follows most of the other guidelines set by the CDC, he added.
Outbreaks have been linked to poor ventilation where the virus appears to have been transmitted through the production of aerosols from infected individuals that have concentrated in the air over time.– Health Canada
School staff are allowed to use ventilators as long as they are alone in a classroom or office, according to Healthy and Safe Schools, 2021-22 department guidelines for COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.
According to Health Canada, “adequate ventilation can help reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 indoors.”
But good indoor ventilation alone cannot protect people from exposure to the virus, especially during close unprotected contact and in the absence of other protective measures, he says.
“The outbreaks have been linked to poor ventilation where the virus appears to have been transmitted through the production of aerosols from infected individuals which have concentrated in the air over time,” the agency advises.
“It is important to note that adjusting the ventilation is not likely to reduce transmission between nearby individuals.”
He recommends ventilating a room to replace indoor air with outdoor air.
“This will dilute and replace any air contaminated with the SARS-CoV-2 virus or other air pollutants.”
Asked about the public health position on students and teachers in 60 schools without adequate ventilation returning to class, Dr Cristin Muecke, deputy chief medical officer of health, said officials continued to work with the Ministry of Health. Education.
“We are continuing to work on this issue and provide advice, to review the situation in schools,” she told CBC during the COVID briefing last Thursday.
“This is one of the many layers of protection that can be applied, whether in schools or other ventilated buildings. So we seek to optimize as much as possible, knowing that it is only one room. of the puzzle. “
The ministry has allocated a total of $ 200,000 in its 2021-2022 capital budget to perform air quality testing and technical assessments.