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Concern about air quality in schools pushes parents in London, Ont., To ‘take matters into our own hands’




A group of parents in London, Ont., Say they are taking matters into their own hands by starting an online fundraiser to buy the hundreds of high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters they say are needed to protect teachers and students from COVID-19.

Education Minister Steven Lecce said the province would have “strong defenses in place” when he announced that Ontario students would return to class on January 17th. They include additional rapid antigen tests, better masks for students and teachers, and improved ventilation for schools, including about 3,000 additional HEPA filters to be installed in classrooms across the province.

The Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) said it has already installed 1,413 HEPA units and a number of $ 72.6 million ventilation system improvements over the past five years, including:

  • Kindergarten classes in all 130 TVDSB elementary schools.
  • Classes with students with complex and widespread medical needs;
  • Common spaces (classrooms, libraries, gymnasiums, orientation offices, staff rooms, etc.) in schools without mechanical ventilation.

The board has confirmed it will receive 89 additional HEPA units from the province within the next two weeks, which “will have priority in classes with students who have approved disguise exemptions,” a spokesman said in a statement.

Would I call this a strong effort? Certainly not. ‘

But that’s not enough for London parents behind an online fundraising campaign through the Thames Valley Education Foundation. The goal is to eventually purchase enough filters for the entire 4,025-class TVDSB fleet.

A study of 169 primary schools in Georgia, conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control, suggests that simply opening a window, door, or using a school fan is one of the most effective ways to curb the spread of COVID-19. (Evan Mitsui / CBC)

“I think they are putting some protection on the fact that they have several HEPA units around,” said Lyndsay Fitzgeorge, mother of two and coordinator of the fitness and health promotion program at Fanshawe College.

“Would I call this a strong effort? Maybe not. That’s why we’re campaigning properly?”

Fitzgeorgehas co-hosted the campaign with Corrine Rahman, a mother of three and administrator of TVDSB.

“The government understands the importance of HEPA filters because they are sending them across the province, but unfortunately our school board has only 25 percent coverage,” Fitzgeorge said.

“We have decided that we should act now, as if we are starting to do something and take matters into our own hands.”

As of Friday, the fundraising effort had raised about $ 3,300. According to school board officials, each filter costs $ 960 to purchase and install, with an additional $ 200 per year for maintenance, including electricity, filter changes, and general maintenance.

“The evidence is very clear that the virus that causes COVID-19 is in the air, so cleaning the air makes sense,” Fitzgeorge said.

Health Canada says “no direct evidence”

But not everyone agrees.

While Ontario has recently made extensive efforts to install HEPA filters in classrooms, other provinces like Alberta and Quebec are not.

The Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) said it has already installed 1,413 HEPA units and a number of $ 72.6 million ventilation system improvements over the past five years. (Frederick Florin / AFP / Getty Images)

A senior Quebec government public health adviser has said filters “are not a magic bullet”, noting that filters are unlikely to be an effective way to prevent the virus from spreading and “can create a feeling false security “.

A school in Edmonton even went so far as to return a HEPA filter unit to a group of parents who raised enough money to buy one, saying the school ventilation was enough.

Health Canada says that while filters can trap airborne particles, including some viruses, “there is no direct evidence that HEPA portable air purifiers are effective in reducing SARS-CoV-2 transmission indoors.”

Health Canada says HEPA filters should not replace adequate ventilation, physical distancing or personal hygiene.

The federal health authority said the units could be considered an “additional protection”, but only when “mechanical ventilation is not possible and in rooms that are not crowded”.

The board has ID’d350 high priority areas

Parents after the fundraiser argue that they are not seeking to use HEPA filters to replace the already imposed public health measures, but say they will simply be used as an additional layer of protection for teachers and students.

A portable HEPA filter, inside a classroom in Toronto in August 2021. (Evan Mitsui / CBC)

“We are not replacing those measures,” Fitzgeorge said. “We are trying to add air purification to these other factors.”

Fitzgeorge said that, at the very least, the fundraising campaign hopes to raise enough to cover the 350 HEPA filters that TVDSB still seeks to install in classrooms and that have been identified as “high priority”.

At least a studyOf the 169 elementary schools in the United States that were conducted prior to the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines, research suggests that opening a window or using a fan may not only be cheaper, but also more effective.

Researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a 35 percent reduction in the incidence of infection compared to schools that did not.

Schools that required teachers and students to wear masks saw 37 percent fewer infections than those that did not.

The study also found that schools that used air filters in combination with mask requirements and opening doors, windows and the use of fans and air filters saw 48 percent fewer cases of COVID-19.




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