Province pledges to improve ventilation in schools in Mississauga and Ontario

Published August 4, 2021 at 4:31 pm

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With schools set to reopen for in-person learning in a few weeks, the Province is pledging to improve ventilation in a bid to protect staff and students from COVID-19 infections. 

On Aug. 4, the Ontario government announced additional funding of $25 million to further improve ventilation in schools. The announcement comes just one day after the Province confirmed that students will return to classrooms this September and that, come next month, elementary and secondary school students will be able to play on sports teams, use instruments in music class, go on field trips and ditch masks outdoors, even if distance can’t be maintained. 

According to the Province’s Aug. 3 announcement, students will be in school five days a week and school days will not be shortened. Students still have the option to learn virtually from home and high school students will have timetables with no more than two courses at a time. However, the Province’s plan warns school boards to be prepared for a potential closure, without listing circumstances that might lead to that.

Protocols may be rolled back over time, dependent on vaccination rates, but the government isn’t making shots mandatory for staff or students.

The Province says the additional ventilation funding, which brings the net new investments in school ventilation to $600 million, will help ensure that all occupied classrooms, gyms, libraries and other instructional spaces without mechanical ventilation have standalone high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter units in place. The province also says that the project includes Junior and Senior Kindergarten classrooms in mechanically ventilated schools, as very young children will not be required to wear masks in class. 

“With yesterday’s release of health and safety measures for schools, students have a safe path to return to a more normal, in-person, full-time learning environment, which is critical to their mental and physical health,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, in a statement. 

“We are following the best expert advice by ensuring all schools have improved air ventilation, including deploying an additional 20,000 HEPA units, in total over 70,000 ventilation devices, to help ensure schools remain as safe as possible. With the work we have done, I am confident we will keep students and staff safe in our schools as we reopen for the 2021-22 school year.”

According to the Province, approximately 20,000 standalone HEPA filter units have been procured through the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services and will be deployed to school boards where needed. The remaining funding will be allocated to school boards to procure additional standalone HEPA filter units.

Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious diseases specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital, took to Twitter to praise the government for acting on ventilation. He also expressed concern over the fact that the Province has yet to mandate vaccinations for staff and students 12 years of age and older. 

“I’m no air quality/HVAC expert, but it seems to me that the Ontario [government] is taking ventilation and filtration seriously. They’ve had a good 2 days. If they mandated vaccinations, I’d say they had a GREAT 2 days. No cogent reason to not mandate this,” he wrote. 

In a news release, the Province said the government will also provide school boards with a standardized reporting tool on ventilation improvements. 

With files from The Canadian Press

Photo taken prior to COVID-19 pandemic

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