Winter power outages add to school ventilation concerns
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This article was published 12/11/2021 (504 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Dropping temperatures and rising school outbreaks are renewing concerns about ventilation in Manitoba classrooms as the COVID-19 pandemic wears on.
In an effort to curb transmission of the novel coronavirus, provincial officials announced Friday new restrictions that focus on preventing spread during youth sporting events and indoor recreation activities.
The changes don’t affect learning in K-12 classrooms overall, although an additional six school outbreaks have been declared.
Mechanical engineer Matt Froese said the ideal ventilation system brings in the right amount of outdoor air to exchange indoor air, includes quality air filters, and contains a control element. Many new schools have carbon dioxide monitors installed into thermostats so there is an early warning if something goes wrong, said the technical leader in commissioning at Integrated Designs Inc.
If schools cannot meet American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers standards, Froese said they should look into installing HEPA (high efficiency particular air) filters — especially because ventilation becomes less effective in the winter.
“Portable HEPA filters make a lot of sense in Manitoba because adding outdoor air can be very challenging. We get very cold air in the winter and very hot air in the summer,” said Froese, adding portable filters can add aerosol protection.
Manitoba’s back-to-school pandemic plan recommends schools ensure ventilation systems operate properly, increase air exchanges, limit crowded hallways, and encourage outdoor education. The province also continues to promote mask use and, weather permitting, opening windows to promote air circulation.
The chief provincial public health officer has indicated schools should assess each space, rather than promote the widespread use of HEPA filters.
Meantime, Ontario has mandated all school boards place standalone filters in every learning environment that does not have mechanical ventilation, as well as every full-day kindergarten room.
Following the first snowstorm of the Manitoba school year, questions about school closures, power outages and ventilation are top of mind this week.
Froese said ventilation is among the concerns, alongside heating, lighting, and technology, when there is an outage. However, he said there is no need to be especially worried — given masks and distancing are in effect — if the power is out for under an hour.
Two minor outages, neither of which required significant shutdowns, have already occurred in the Seven Oaks School Division this year.
During those events, superintendent Brian O’Leary said windows were opened and students encouraged to go outside. Older students might be dismissed during such an event in the winter months because of a variety of safety concerns, said O’Leary, while administration would call parents of younger pupils and provide buses as shelter for elementary schoolers.
A provincial spokesperson said Friday school divisions are responsible for assessing emergencies and determining whether closures are necessary. Manitoba has not provided guidance on ventilation protocols during school outages.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.