Kramberger: As kids get vaccinated, Quebec still lags in school air purification

The West Island’s English school board has proved to be more diligent than the Quebec government when it comes to certain health measures.

The Montreal Gazette 3 minute read November 24, 2021

While Quebec is encouraging parents to make COVID-19 vaccination appointments for kids age five to 11, the province is still not adequately addressing air quality issues in many older schools that don’t have mechanical ventilation systems.

Appointments for public vaccination clinics can be made on the Clic Santé website, but parents of elementary students within the Lester B. Pearson School Board should note that some mobile clinics will be rolled out through its network in the coming weeks. For instance, a walk-in clinic (no appointment required) will be held this Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Beurling Academy in Verdun. Individual schools will contact parents with further details. Most Pearson elementary schools will eventually host a clinic, but some will be coupled with a nearby school.

At the public clinic in the Gerry Robertson Community Centre in Pierrefonds, first-dose appointments for five- to 11-year-olds were already fully booked through mid-December as of Wednesday. Parental consent is required, and a parent must be present for vaccination at a clinic for that age group.

While vaccines are now available for students age five and up, improving air quality and filtration at every school should be a priority, especially considering the coronavirus is airborne. Quebec seems to be lagging in this area.

A year ago, the Pearson board decided it couldn’t wait for the province to act and opted to order $500,000 worth of higher-end filters for schools with mechanical ventilation systems, and wall-mounted air purifiers for classrooms in buildings that only had natural ventilation (that is, through opening windows and doors).

Making vaccines available for all students five and older is welcomed and will hopefully curtail the number of new cases. However, purifying the air at schools is a must, and not just to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. It could help prevent the spread of the flu or colds, and help those who are asthmatic. The province should set up a funding program to improve air filtration at all schools, particularly those that don’t have mechanical ventilation systems.

While Quebec no longer requires high school students to wear masks in classrooms, the Pearson board announced it will continue to supply masks to its students — and many still wear them in class, even if they now have the right not to. It seems high school students can be more sensible than provincial authorities.

A combination of vaccinations, improved air filtration and masks should be used to quell transmission at schools. Too bad Quebec’s standards are lacking with regards to mask protocols and air purification measures in classrooms. At least the West Island’s English school board has stepped up when it can in these areas.

Albert Kramberger is editor of the Montreal Gazette’s West Island/Off-Island section.

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