Saturday, November 27

Covid-19 demands school ventilation standards as a priority – health experts

New Zealand schools will need better ventilation to prevent Covid-19 Delta than the poor standard they have endured for years, public health experts say.

classroom school students desks desks

New Zealand has endured poor classroom ventilation for a long time, says Dr. Jin Russell. (file photo)
Photo: Unsplash / Ruben Rodriguez

Dr. Jin Russell, Developmental Pediatrician at Starship Children’s Hospital wrote a blog post along with epidemiologists from the University of Otago, including Professors Michael Baker and Nick Wilson, calling on the Ministry of Education to immediately invest in new building standards and resources to improve ventilation in classrooms.

Dr. Russell said Morning report having good ventilation was taken very seriously in other countries and could be as effective as wearing masks in preventing viral spread.

“This is not a problem that is going to go away and … studies say, for example, that ventilation is going to be as effective, based on emerging evidence, as masking.”

“As you can imagine, we are not only trying to prevent the transmission of Covid-19, but other viruses … as well as helping them to think well and learn well.”

Schools in the US have ventilation systems, and the UK has recently promised 300,000 carbon dioxide monitors to alert teachers when ventilation is needed to improve air quality, he said.

By comparison, a typical Wellington elementary school classroom meets the building code’s ventilation standard for only about 38 percent of the school day.

“There is no magic formula for this, but we want the Ministry of Education to look closely at what can be done to improve the existing building stock and then ensure that the building stock in the future has high ventilation standards,” said Dr. Russell said.

“I think we at Aotearoa have just accepted poor building standards for our schools and what we are saying is that in this new era with Delta on the scene and possibly other new variants, we really need to make an investment now to improve building standards for our school kids. “

In Nelson, Waimea College principal Scott Haines said teachers and other staff were well aware of the need for good ventilation.

“Ventilation falls short of hygiene practices, disinfectant, physical distancing, cleaning regimen, contact tracing ability, all that sort of thing,” he said.

“I was talking to a colleague at Invercargill last week when schools came back and there was a snow shower, and he said it’s making your ventilation strategy quite problematic, so I certainly acknowledge that mileage varies across the country. in terms of the ability to make that a meaningful strategy, in terms of Covid prevention. “

Haines said that while attendance was much higher this time than when students returned after the previous closure, student use of masks was quite low.

“I think our school average for the past week was 90.5 percent, which is just a little short of usual attendance … I think we only have three students who were self-isolating due to compromised immune vulnerabilities. or at home.

“My ballpark figure would be between 5 or 10 percent of the masked student population, but much higher rates with staff.”

Dr. Russell said that it was not fair to place the burden of managing the ventilation of schools on individual teachers.

“One of the reasons we said that is because to air out a classroom often, what teachers are currently doing is just opening windows. We think it shouldn’t be up to individual teachers to protect students in this way. ventilated with clean air “.

“It is very important that the Ministry of Education looks at the ventilation in schools because we have had a deficient stock for a long time.”

Regardless, there were some steps the teachers could take in the meantime.

“Studies have shown that even if you can open the windows just a little bit, get some openings, it really improves ventilation. And if you’re in a cold part of the country, it’s actually easier to ventilate a cold room, you can have openings. even smaller to ventilate that room due to the temperature differences between the classroom and the outside.

“We are coming to summer soon in Aotearoa and it would be great if we could open the windows and doors as much as possible to let in as much outside air as possible – that will be really beneficial and will make sure that we have no school closures and we have no transmission inside. of the classrooms “.

Haines said that Covid-19 and the continuing threat of closures were widening the economic gap for families, which was a real concern.

“Those who have the resources and the technology and the bedroom space and the study space and the support at home to progress in their learning can do so, and those who don’t just aren’t and the gap grows.

“That is something that we are very focused on across the country … now that we are all back in school, trying to identify those gaps and how to fill them.”

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