As more Calgary kids stay home from school sick and hospital visits skyrocket, a group of concerned parents are hoping to get some answers from the city’s largest school division about what’s being done to prevent the spread of airborne illnesses.
This group filed a regulatory complaint with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) against the Calgary Board of Education.
“The complaint stems from concerns about the engineering ethics and skill requirements associated with implementing ventilation and filtration mitigations for COVID-19 in schools,” the group said in a news release.
“As a scientist, when you ask a very specific question and you don’t get a specific answer, you start to wonder why that is,” Mark Ungrin, an associate professor at the University of Calgary, told Global News.
Amanda Hu, one of the complainants, said she asked for clarification and engineering documentation on filtration, ventilation, fresh air exchange and compliance with airborne disease mitigation guidelines – documentation she said she had not received.
On October 13, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) released its positions on infectious aerosols.
“Engineering controls that have been demonstrated to reduce the risk of exposure to infectious aerosols include dilution with outside air provided by mechanical or natural ventilation, indoor air filtration, indoor air flow patterns, and disinfection by germicidal ultraviolet light and other technologies that have been shown to is effective and safe.” ASHRAE written.
Ventilation in Alberta schools: are school boards prepared for the Delta variant?
In a statement to Global News, the CBE said it installed MERV 13 filters in schools – where possible – in the spring of 2022, filters that are still in use.
Buffalo, Western New York is getting absolutely hammered by a lake-effect blizzard
Ellen Pompeo is leaving ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ after 19 seasons as Meredith Gray
“In addition, all CBE schools are mechanically ventilated and systems are in place to maximize air exchange,” the statement said.
“Over the past two school years, Alberta Labour, Occupational Health and Safety and Alberta Health Services have inspected CBE schools and determined that the health measures in place are fully compliant with existing government recommendations.
“Portable air cleaners are generally recommended when no mechanical ventilation exists, meaning when windows are the only ventilation. Since our schools are mechanically ventilated, we have not installed these portable devices.”
“It’s not really enough to be told that things are ‘safe’ or that they ‘meet guidelines,'” Hu said in a statement. “These measures are simple and they’re either done or not, so it was worrying to consistently not get specific answers and to get answers that contradicted guidance from government publications or expert recommendations.”
READ MORE: Young child among 6 Albertans to die from flu this season
Ungrin said that CBE and Alberta in general do not seem to be heeding the lessons of the 2003 SARS outbreak.
“If you read just the first four pages of the recommendations of (the SARS commission report), there are very clear recommendations about dealing with airborne SARS coronaviruses that have not been implemented. You know, there were some lessons learned there that we seem to have forgotten about.”
Ungrin would like to see more portable filtration in classrooms. Kindergarten through college classes in other jurisdictions have built filtration units known as Corsi-Rosenthal boxes from readily available filters and fans, at a fraction of the cost of a commercially available unit.
But with CBE apparently not allowing portable filters in classes and the prime minister and education minister saying they won’t reinstate a mask mandate, Ungrin would like to see greater ventilation in classes.
“Ventilation is really one of the most important remaining tools that we have, especially where we are politically right now in Alberta,” Ungrin said.
“If we looked at the hospitalization rate for children, the injury rate for children from these diseases, if someone had suggested five years ago that this was acceptable, it would have ended political careers. But now it’s just like, ‘OK, well, we’ll just forget about it and we’ll just pretend it’s okay and hope it’s not our kid that ends up in ICU.’
© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.