Dress warmly, TDSB tells students as it plans to fight COVID-19 by opening classroom windows
About 50% of its schools don't have mechanical ventilation, board estimates
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has a message for parents this winter: make sure your kids dress warmly as schools will be opening their windows several times a day to fight COVID-19.
"We recognize it is very much a balance between introducing more ventilation at various times during the day and maintaining a comfortable indoor air temperature in classroom," the TDSB wrote in a notice to parents last Thursday.
"Please keep this in mind as your child gets ready for school each day by considering an extra layer of clothing to ensure comfort throughout the day."
The TDSB says it's following the advice of public health officials who say the novel coronavirus circulates more readily in poorly ventilated buildings. The board estimates that approximately half of its schools do not have any form of mechanical ventilation, which means classrooms generally have to rely on open windows for air circulation.
"We may open it for three to five minutes every couple of hours," TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird told CBC News Monday.
"We are turning up the heat in our schools, but it's still likely going to be a little bit cooler than normal in some of the classrooms, depending on when those windows are opened up."
Opening windows 'a blunt tool,' doctor says
The measure comes as COVID-19 cases hit a record high Monday in Toronto.The TDSB itself, which educates close to a quarter of a million kids in 583 schools, says 365 of its students and 68 of its staff members have tested positive so far this year as of Nov. 30. A total of 417 of those cases are listed on the board's website as resolved.
But Dr. Alon Vaisman, an infectious disease physician at the University Health Network in Toronto, says there are too many variables at play to determine how effective opening classroom windows will be in reducing the spread of the virus.
"The thing about the opening of windows is it's kind of it's hard to judge that recommendation," he said.
"It's kind of a blunt tool."
To gauge the effectiveness of opening classroom windows, Vaisman says one would need to take several measurements in each classroom, the ventilation in each room, and the number of people inside.
"Nobody would have the time or the resources to do the investigations for every single room across the city, for every school, across the city," he said.
But the policy is comforting to some parents sending their children to school for in-person learning.
"The [COVID-19 case] numbers are going up and it's stressful to think about it every day, making the right decision" on sending kids to school, said Laura Strachan, who is the mother of a Grade 5 student.
Other parents are calling for a permanent solution to ventilation issues in TDSB schools.
"If this is an interim emergency measure, then so be it," said Jessica Lyons, a mother of three who is also an organizer with the Ontario Parent Action Network — a group that lobbies for equitable public education across the province.
"It doesn't eliminate the problem," Lyons added.
"Extend the school break, if needed, to make the changes and improvements to ventilation and safety measures that need to happen. We're in an emergency here. It's a terrible situation."
Jennifer Brown, the president of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto, says she isn't impressed with the proposed winter measures for classrooms.
"It's disappointing that we are risking children possibly getting pneumonia, sickness to prevent another sickness."
Brown says the provincial government should make sure all schools have proper ventilation systems.
"I really think that it is unfortunate that this is where we have to go as a public education system to tell parents, you know, 'Dress extra warm because we're going to have to keep the windows open because there's not enough fresh air coming in here.'"