Air quality experts hope today’s government pandemic school plan will do more to protect students in runaway classrooms.
They met with officials yesterday to push for air monitoring and, if necessary, classroom air filtering to keep Covid-19 at bay.
The UK is testing high-efficiency (hepa) filters in 30 schools, Victoria started installing 51,000 filters before the schools reopen this week, and the US has started installing 51,000 filters. very detailed advice which also covers early child care centers.
On the contrary, the very limited resources of the Ministry of Education online advice in larger vents when opening windows, do not deploy filters.
The virus can remain suspended in the air for long periods before being inhaled, triggering new infections, especially in crowded and inhabited indoor spaces for prolonged periods, for example, classrooms. The infection of young people has been increasing, here and abroad.
The government is giving details of the schools reopening today.
Julie Bennett, who has defended ventilation against the virus in schools, met yesterday with the Ministries of Education and Health, to expose the measures they can take, starting with put carbon dioxide monitors in rooms.
“I hope that the indoor air quality in schools will be analyzed more closely,” the researcher from the University of Otago said later.
This should involve developing a strategy for dealing with classrooms ranging from small to large and open-plan.
The meeting was a starting point, he said.
“There is a lot to do. We have not invested in our school buildings for a long period of time.”
Studies show a typical classroom only meets Building Code ventilation standards for less than half the school day; not all have openable windows, and where there are, few teachers open them due to noise and wind.
Half of the classrooms in a 2013 Auckland study found “very poor” ventilation measuring carbon dioxide levels.
The Education Ministry says it “recently started talking to the Health Ministry about ventilation options that they believe can better minimize the risk of infection in indoor learning areas.”
The international advice was that fresh air was the best option, so schools should keep windows open all day, he said.
The approach may differ from other countries with different climates and school designs, he added.
His statement does not mention air purifiers or monitoring.
The ministry’s 2017 air quality standards apply to new buildings, not existing ones.
The government’s response is too slow for Auckland’s GP Dr Sandhya Ramanathan, a YouTube star of Covid Explainers, including the latest one entitled ‘Is Your School Ready?’
“I think we are way behind the eight ball,” Ramanathan told RNZ.
“We should have been looking around the world and preparing for this inevitable reality.”
Germany started this a year ago.
In February, doctors at Imperial College London warned that there was “an urgent need” for guidelines on the use of ventilation in schools to reduce transmission. Fast forward, and six in 10 UK managers surveyed want more action on ventilation.
Encouraged by her son who returned to class for the Cambridge exams this week, Dr. Ramanathan has met with some other medical professionals to give advice to Auckland school principals on how not to use the air conditioner unless change to fresh air, and don’t. Do not use the air conditioner if it only recirculates the air.
The ministry council lacked details, he said, “because not many people know, for example, the difference between an HVAC system and just a heat pump.”
“We can protect our children. Because we know that children can return to school safely, if the multi-layer approach is used” – masks, vaccination and ventilation – he said.
Monitoring machines can cost more than $ 10,000, although $ 400 monitors were developed locally several years ago.
Regarding hepa filters, a Researcher from New South Wales has estimated a cost of $ 700 per classroom, or $ 50 million in NSW, which has 8 million people.
The United States has developed some purifiers to only $ 200 each.
Germany came to this at a time when the World Health Organization was obsessed with transmitting Covid-19 across the surface.
Professor Lidia Morawska from Queensland University of Technology was highly influential in showing that airborne Covid-19 is the biggest threat.
He said Germany has had carbon dioxide monitors in its classrooms for years, but New Zealand, Australia and most countries remained largely oblivious to ventilation risks for years – an “incredible” blind spot, he said.
“In October or November of last year … the German government presented a very large financial package in terms of improving ventilation in public spaces,” Morawska told RNZ.
“They were prepared for this, so … when the risk of infection was recognized, they knew what to do.”
Others were now trying to catch up, but sometimes hopping onto the purifiers, without first monitoring the air.
“The first thing is to understand what the situation is with the ventilation,” Morawska said, then try to fix a problem by opening the windows, and if that didn’t work, the purifiers could.
But ultimately, the classrooms had to be redesigned to ensure their air was not only safe, but also fresh, regardless of the large initial cost over a decade or two, he said.
“We are working for our future.
“If we don’t start thinking about this now and act now, we will be in the same situation during the next pandemic.”