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Poor ventilation at 10 P.E.I. schools should be government priority, Liberal MLA says

Liberal MLA Gordon McNeilly speaks to the media during a P.E.I. legislature sitting in March.
Liberal MLA Gordon McNeilly speaks to the media during a P.E.I. legislature sitting in March. - SaltWire Network File Photo

A Liberal MLA says the P.E.I. government isn't putting enough priority on its 10 schools with outdated ventilation systems.

"As it stands, these 10 schools are forced to open their windows for a portion of the day – even during cold winter months – just to get fresh air," Gordon McNeilly said during question period in the P.E.I. legislature on Tuesday.

P.E.I.'s public schools branch facilitates 56 schools, all of which have ventilation systems that meet the necessary standards, the Public Schools Branch's acting director Norbert Carpenter told The Guardian last August.

Part of McNeilly's concern is the possible risk that poor ventilation could pose in the spread of COVID-19. He also wanted to know whether a timeline was in place for these schools to receive upgrades.


AT A GLANCE:

The following P.E.I. schools do not have mechanical ventilation systems and therefore rely on natural ventilation, the Public Schools Branch (PSB) said in a statement on April 6:

• Alberton Elementary
• Belfast Consolidated
• Cardigan Consolidated
• Englewood School
• Georgetown Elementary
• O'Leary Elementary
• Parkdale Elementary
• Parkside Elementary
• St Jean Elementary
• West Kent Elementary

Communications officer Sparrow McGowan noted that updating school HVAC systems is part of the PSB's regular capital project planning.

"Updating HVAC systems requires major renovations and significant capital investment," McGowan's statement reads. "When there are issues or concerns with air quality at any school we immediately address them."


"Will this be subjected to another winter of opening windows? ... You would think that government would prioritize this issue."

Liberal MLA Gordon McNeilly

When McNeilly questioned Education Minister Natalie Jameson on the topic, she responded that the school's ventilation systems shouldn't be a concern, according to the federal Public Health Agency of Canada.

"There is no known risk associated with the virus spreading through the ventilation systems," she said. "With regards to these 10 schools, the health and safety of our students continues to remain the top priority."

The 10 schools in question are not currently on the province's priority list to receive any upgrades, McNeilly said.

"I don't think this is being prioritized efficiently enough considering the potential risk and the fact that students are exposed to the outside weather conditions in an effort to obtain clean air."


FEDERAL GUIDELINES:

The Public Health Agency of Canada's guide on indoor ventilation, last updated Jan. 18, reads:
• The risk from recirculating the virus through a space serviced by a single heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) unit is unknown.
• Ventilation has an important role in reducing the transmission of COVID-19 indoors, but it is not likely to reduce transmission when individuals are in close proximity.
• Opening exterior doors and windows for a few minutes can improve ventilation – ideally more than one at a time. Opening windows in winter may not always be comfortable or possible, but doing so for a few minutes at a time during the day can still make a difference.
• If occupants will be indoors for longer periods, such as at schools, occupants should have regular outdoor breaks to allow for ventilation.


Jameson noted she will discuss the topic further with her department. McNeilly referenced a CBC P.E.I. report outlining a Nova Scotia occupational hygienists appeal for P.E.I. to modernize school ventilation systems and to set deadlines for the 10 in question.

"Or will this be subjected to another winter of opening windows?" McNeilly said. "You would think government has prioritized this issue."

Daniel Brown is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government. Twitter.com/dnlbrown95

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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