Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge reassured the public on Thursday saying that there were no cases of COVID-19 outbreaks in schools that were attributable to poor ventilation in classrooms.
Premier François Legault echoed the sentiment, saying parents can trust the ventilation measures that are in place.
The comments come after new revelations pointing to irregularities in air quality measurements in classrooms.
The controversy has dragged on for months, fuelled in part by calls from opposition parties for the installation of air purifiers or air exchangers in schools.
According to a Radio-Canada investigation broadcast on Thursday, the protocol used to measure air quality tended to improve results, in three out of five tests carried out during the fall-winter of 2020-2021. Things like opening windows led to a reduced amount of carbon dioxide in the rooms being tested.
“Today, we know one thing: in 61 per cent of cases, air quality tests were manipulated,” said Liberal MNA Marwah Rizqy during question period.
Roberge strongly disagreed with Rizqy’s assessment.
“Absolutely not,” he said during a morning press conference, while admitting the tests were not perfect.
He did, however, state that the methodology had been put in place by specialists. He also said that the protocol was respected even in cases where windows were left open.
“We must take samples that reflect the normal in-class situation,” he said. “It would have been wrong to close the window on the day of test, when windows stay open all year long.”
When asked whether poor air quality may have contributed to COVID-19 outbreaks in school, the minister said he had no evidence to support the notion.
And contrary to what the opposition parties are demanding, Premier Legault said the installation of air purifiers in classrooms is not necessary.
“There is like an obsession with the famous air purifiers,” he said at a press conference. “Public health has been clear from the start, there is no need for air purifiers. Opening windows does the job.”
In problematic classes, an air exchanger is or will be provided, added Roberge, who is expecting full data from the tests by the end of April.
“There will be no compromise on safety. If there is a class where we do not respect CO2 standards, we will close it or we will add ventilation,” Legault said.
The Parti Québécois (PQ) for its part claimed that “the air quality fiasco” was ongoing due to the government’s systematic refusal to consider proposals made by opposition parties.
“If the premier’s priority was really to keep schools open, as he keeps repeating, he would not accept these repeated boondoggles and he would act,” said PQ parliamentary leader Pascal Bérubé.
The investigation released Thursday pertains to measurements taken in nearly 2,000 classrooms in Montreal and Quebec City, mainly during the winter of 2021.
— With files from Global News’ Annabelle Olivier