Expert calls on P.E.I. government to set deadline for modernized school ventilation systems

An expert on ventilation thinks the P.E.I. government should set a firm deadline for when it will have modern ventilation systems in all Island schools. 

There are 10 schools on P.E.I. without modern ventilation systems

The P.E.I. government has told schools without modern ventilation systems to open the windows multiple times a day to help circulate the air. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

An expert on ventilation thinks the P.E.I. government should set a firm deadline for when it will have modern ventilation systems in all Island schools. 

Marc Lavoie, an occupational hygienist from Dartmouth, N.S., was one of 500 scientists and doctors who signed a letter in January, urging officials to take stronger action to limit the airborne spread of COVID-19.

"We need to … start building a long-term plan," said Lavoie.

"And the long-term plan must say, by this year, all schools will have modern ventilation systems." 

Letter says ventilation and air filtration are 'critical' 

The letter was sent to all Canadian premiers and provincial medical officers of health. 

"The evidence is now overwhelming — aerosol transmission of COVID-19 is common and is an important route of transmission," the letter says.

While masking and physical distancing are key tools to reduce short-range aerosol transmission, the letter says "in sub-optimally ventilated environments, infectious aerosols can accumulate in shared room air and reach dangerous concentrations."

"Ventilation and air filtration are critical additional measures, as expelled aerosols build up in poorly ventilated spaces. We know that many workplaces, buildings and residences in our communities have substandard ventilation."

Marc Lavoie, an occupational hygienist in Dartmouth, says as a society, we've been letting the issue of indoor air quality slip for years. (CBC)

Of the 56 English-language public schools on P.E.I., there are 10 that do not have modern ventilation systems. And none of those 10 are on the priority list to get an upgrade.

In a statement to CBC, the Department of Education said the province follows the advice of public health officials and if their recommendations change, the province's actions will reflect that.

'A concrete, solid plan' 

Charlottetown-West Royalty MLA Gord McNeilly wants the government to take more action, after he raised the issue of indoor air quality in the legislature's fall session. 

"I'm looking for a concrete, solid plan from this government about air quality in both schools and seniors' facilities. And I'll be looking for that in the next session of the legislature," said McNeilly. 

"We have to be able to protect our children now and make sure they have good quality air, especially with COVID, and this is the perfect time to do it." 

Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly wants the P.E.I. government to address the issue of indoor air quality in seniors' homes and schools. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.)

Lavoie said that beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, different viruses are going to keep coming over the years.  

"Air quality in school is overdue in many cases before COVID, right?" he said. "So now we have the worst scenario that happens, and I wouldn't say negligence, but our letting things go by from the past are hurting us now."

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Kerry Campbell


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