Experts and opposition parties have been hammering the Coalition Avenir Québec government to do something about classroom ventilation in the wake of new evidence about the spread of the COVID-19 virus particles in the air and in aerosols.
Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge insisted on Friday that the air quality in Quebec’s schools is adequate. A 22-page report released by the ministry the same day revealed that of 3,227 schools, 1,357 have mechanical ventilation systems that are regularly maintained, but another 1,870 have no such systems and are “ventilated naturally by the opening of windows or other systems favouring the circulation of fresh air.”
Critics disparaged the report because it contained no data on air quality in classrooms.
By contrast, an unofficial study conducted recently by a group called COVID-STOP found that, of 25 classrooms tested with a carbon dioxide meter, 75 per cent exceeded the acceptable level of 700 to 800 parts per million, indicating poor airflow.
The English Montreal School Board agreed to spend about $1.75 million on new air purifiers to reduce the odds of COVID-19 transmission inside its buildings.
EMSB commissioners on Wednesday night approved a plan to install about 800 purifiers in all buildings where mechanical ventilation systems are not in place, the board said in an emailed statement. An internal study identified 30 of the EMSB’s 55 buildings that required the purifiers. The estimated price tag covers the purchase, installation and maintenance of the equipment.
“Due to the current ongoing COVID-19 health crisis and the arrival of the cold weather season, there is no question that naturally ventilated classrooms and specific areas should be equipped with these air purifiers,” EMSB chair Joe Ortona said in the statement. Quebec will be asked to reimburse the EMSB for all expenses incurred, he added.
Last month, the Lester B. Pearson School Board approved spending $500,000 to acquire 420 air purifiers for 16 older school buildings that are naturally ventilated. It said the air purifiers should be in place by mid-December.