TORONTO — The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is gearing up for the return of students this fall by improving ventilation and safety measures amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, the board invited media to Highland Heights Junior Public School for a ‘show and tell’ of ventilation systems that are expected to be implemented in all TDSB classrooms, gyms and shared spaces to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
One piece of machinery that is being installed in classrooms is a unit ventilator which brings in fresh air from outside.
“Unit ventilators bring in fresh air from the outside and bring it in as a form of supply in the classroom and there is a natural return where the air comes back down through here. The air is constantly being circulated through the room,” Maïa Puccetti, executive officer of facility services and planning with the TDSB, told reporters.
Institutional grade high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters will also be provided in classrooms, portables and wellness rooms throughout TDSB schools.
The filters can be used in up to 1,500 square feet but most TDSB classrooms are around 750 square feet, according to Puccetti.
“It doesn’t ventilate the space. What it does is air circulates through it, particulates are removed through the HEPA filter and air is returned,” she said.
The difference between the two machines is that unit ventilators supply air and are a part of the school’s mechanical system, whereas the HEPA filters are standalone units that remove particulates from the air.
For the past few years, the TDSB has also been installing cooling centres in gymnasiums at older schools without central air conditioning.
“The air is circulated through those units, there are filters in those units. Kids can come in here during the day from classrooms, take turns with their classrooms to enjoy the cooling centre,” Puccetti said.
The TDSB said it is investing $100 million worth of ventilated-related investments in its schools this year, as health officials have said that improved ventilation will help reduce transmission of the virus.
“Certainly, we understand that the better the ventilation the less likelihood of transmission with COVID-19. In places like hospitals where ventilation is quite good and there’s a lot of standardization in that, that’s less of a concern. But in places like schools where there’s a variety of buildings, there’s some that are older, some that are newer, that’s going to be more of an issue. So whatever you can do to optimize the ventilation the better,” infectious diseases specialist Dr. Alon Vaisman told CP24 on Tuesday.
Ventilation has emerged as a key tool in combatting COVID-19 as science continues to demonstrate the coronavirus can float in aerosol particle form in poorly ventilated spaces for hours.
The upgrades to ventilation in schools is hoped to help curb virus spread especially as children under 12 years old are ineligible for a COVID-19 vaccine..
As of Tuesday, 68 per cent of Ontario youth between 12 and 17 years old have received one dose of the approved Pfizer vaccine for this age group, while 52 per cent have received two doses and are fully vaccinated.
Highland Heights Principal Zorina Alli said she is confident that parents and caregivers will be satisfied with the ventilation upgrades.
“I think our families will be very confident that their kids will be in spaces that are well ventilated, and throughout the school regardless of where they’re learning. And we have beautiful outdoor spaces as well both in the kindergarten area and both for recess and lunchtime play in the back,” she told reporters.
Last week, the provincial government announced it would offer an additional $25 million in funding to further improve ventilation in schools ahead of fall reopening.
The province said it will ensure that all classrooms, gyms, libraries and other instructional spaces without mechanical ventilation will have HEPA filter units by the time kids return in September.
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