School ventilation guidelines needed now
Good ventilation in classrooms is a vital tool in the fight against COVID-19, along with mask wearing, social distancing, rapid antigen testing and, of course, vaccination.
The IEU Executive has called on NSW Health to develop guidelines concerning ventilation, air filtration and other health measures to make the re-opening of schools as safe as possible for staff and students.
The union has also written to school employers drawing their attention to this issue and asking them to take action before teachers and students return to schools.
Viruses such as COVID-19 are spread by air droplets when infectious people cough or sneeze. They can stay in a room’s air for up to eight minutes.
Opening a window and increasing air circulation is a good way of reducing the risk of further infection. When this is not possible, air conditioning, air purifiers and CO2 sensors, which indicate when the air in a room is becoming stale, are also important. Germany is spending €500 million ($A800m)on improving ventilation in public buildings (BBC, 6 September).
UNSW air pollution expert Donna Green wrote in The Conversation recently that for $50 million, all Australian schools could be provided with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) purifiers, which can minimise the risk of COVID spread, as well as mitigating health risks from bushfire smoke.
Green notes that while this may sound like a big investment, it pales in comparison to the cost of lockdowns ($220 million a day in Sydney).
In New York, all classrooms must have two air purifiers installed before schools can re-open. In Australia, a new group of public health experts called OzSAGE, along with federal Labor, back a plan for improved ventilation in classrooms (SMH, 5 September).
Labor’s NDIS spokesman, Bill Shorten, said in the SMH that the Federal Government should be doing its homework now on school ventilation, particularly for special schools.
OzSAGE member and ventilation expert Professor Lidia Morawska said improved ventilation in public buildings could reduce the number of people infected in outbreaks by 50 percent. Ventilation measures would be particularly useful in schools and early childhood centres, she said.