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There has been a flurry of media attention in the Province of Québec over the past week about the government’s perceived slow and inconsistent response to the need for enhanced ventilation systems in schools. 

HRAI has reached out to the Government of Québec to offer assistance on these questions, drawing on the expertise of its Expert Advisory Panel on Indoor Air Quality in Commercial and Institutional Buildings.

Below are some excerpts from recent news coverage in the province.

Why is the government using an expert panel to study aerosols and ventilation systems? Élisabeth Fleury, Le Soleil

Earlier this week, the Legault government announced that it had mandated a panel of experts to propose solutions to the issue of ventilation in schools.

In July, a letter from an international group of scientists urged the World Health Organization to recognize that the virus can be spread through the air. The Public Health Agency of Canada, however, only acknowledged officially the aerosol transmission of the virus in November.

In September, Québec scientists asked the government to adopt a precautionary approach and to take seriously the risk of airborne transmission of the virus. The recommended guideline was to ensure five air changes per hour to effectively dilute the virus. They also recommended the purchase of carbon monoxide detectors and portable air purifiers equipped with HEPA filters.

Minister of Health Christian Dubé announced on Tuesday that he asked the Québec National Director of Public Health and the INSPQ and his team to examine the spread of aerosols and ventilation in schools to examine if there is a real need for air purifiers.

INSPQ acknowledged it has been mandated to examine specific options, including varying the ventilation process over different time periods, especially when there are closed classes or during a long period of time. The group will also examine existing technologies that could be put in place to help.

The INSPQ already published a document last summer on COVID-19 and the indoor environment. This document recognized the spread of the virus through infectious aerosols and the need for preventive measures. Ventilation through centralized mechanical systems was considered as an effective management measure for indoor air contaminants and the report suggested that increasing fresh air could contribute to the dilution of infectious bio-aerosols.

The INSPQ still believes that the use of high efficiency (MERV 13 and higher) and very high efficiency (HEPA type) filters could be effective solutions in certain circumstances, such as when the required fresh air flows cannot be created or maintained.

Meanwhile, the Québec Ministry of Education announced that it did not have any data on the state of school ventilation systems in the province. A report will be made public by the end of November. School districts have been instructed to submit reports outlining progress in implementing and monitoring a systematic approach to indoor air quality management. 

The Minister of Education recognized, however, that many schools are not mechanically ventilated. He also added that to improve indoor air quality, it is important to bring fresh air into the building to promote air renewal and reduce the concentration of contaminants. ​

Meanwhile, an investigation conducted by the newspaper Le Devoir in five Québec schools highlights recurrent ventilation issues in schools that could contribute to the accumulation of aerosols, one of the vectors of transmission of the virus. According to that report, only 37% of schools are equipped with ventilation or air conditioning system.

More than a quarter of the active COVID-19 outbreaks in the province have been located in schools.

Political pressure in Québec is increasing. A recent motion calling for the purchase and installation of CO2 detectors and portable air purifiers in classrooms was rejected.


From Le Devoir

“Ventilation in schools sometimes meet challenges...

No, there is no window in this classroom...    but there's a good draft coming from up here."


Other media accounts:

The committee on the role of ventilation in schools is overdue
Jean-François Nadeau,Radio Canada 

Not all preventive measures regarding ventilation have been taken
Josée Legault, Le Journal de Montréal 

Air quality in schools is not exemplary
Alexis Riopel, Le Devoir