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Critics worried over Quebec’s efforts to ensure air quality in schools

Students line up outside a Montreal school on Aug. 27, 2020. Quebec has updated its back-to-school plan for 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, sparking concerns over air quality in classrooms. Anne Leclair/Global News

As Quebec unveils its back-to-school plan amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, critics say they are concerned with the province’s efforts to ensure air quality is adequate in classrooms.

Even more so now that wearing masks in class won’t be mandatory.

Read more: COVID-19: Quebec students to wear masks in school hallways this fall, but not in class

“We need the CO2 meters now. We have a very different beast with Delta. [The Delta variant] is much more transmissible and people release a lot more virus in the air,” said Nancy Delagrave, scientific coordinator for COVID-STOP, a collective of doctors and scientists.
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“Basically, they’re putting the semester of students at risk.”

The ministry says it will be installing 90,000 CO2 readers in schools to measure air quality, but they won’t be ready when students head back to the classroom in a couple of weeks.

They will only be installed between September and December this year.

The province recently put out a call for tenders.

Click to play video: 'Critics say quality air ventilation will be difficult to achieve in schools' Critics say quality air ventilation will be difficult to achieve in schools
Critics say quality air ventilation will be difficult to achieve in schools – Aug 17, 2020

“For over a year, Mr. Roberge argued with us that COVID-19 was not airborne. For over a year we asked him to buy the CO2 detectors and air purifiers with HEPA filters and he said ‘nope.’ And finally, May 27, he just woke up and said, You know what? I’m going to buy a CO2 detector,” said Marwah Rizqy, Quebec’s Liberal Party’s education critic.

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Rizqy suggests the minister took too long placing the call for tenders.

“The call for tenders was five weeks later and the due date to close that call for tenders is Aug. 16, seven days before the back-to-school. So, no, he wasn’t ready for the back-to-school.”

In a press conference Wednesday, Quebec education minister Jean-Francois Roberge said schools are safe and that “it’s time to stop fear campaigns.”

Roberge says they’ve worked on improving ventilation systems this summer, made efforts to clean and renovate systems, to fix windows and install air exchangers where needed.

Read more: Coronavirus: Quebec recommends against using portable air purifiers in schools

The debate over air quality in schools has been going on for months in Quebec.

Back in January, Quebec’s health ministry released the results of studies looking into how ventilation affects the transmission of COVID-19.

Around three per cent of classrooms tested showed problems and around two-thirds of schools in Quebec don’t have mechanical ventilation systems.

It means they rely on opening windows for proper circulation, which was an issue during the winter.

Some school boards purchased and installed their own air purifiers.

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Read more: EMSB to buy air purifiers as Quebecers take issue of ventilation in classrooms into their own hands

Roberge says that Quebec is in a better position now than we were in last year.

“We will have those CO2 tools to measure the rate. We have the vaccine and we have the experience,” Roberge said. “We are able to adjust if we have to do so, to follow some new recommendations coming from public health.”

Click to play video: 'Quebec education minister updates back to school plans amid beginning of a COVID-19 4th wave' Quebec education minister updates back to school plans amid beginning of a COVID-19 4th wave
Quebec education minister updates back to school plans amid beginning of a COVID-19 4th wave – Aug 11, 2021

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