Air filtration devices only effective in schools when other COVID-19 measures are in place: PAHO

Air filtration devices are “not useful” in school environments without other coronavirus safety measures in place, according to a doctor with the Pan American Health Organization.

Throughout the pandemic, the BC Teachers’ Federation has repeatedly called on the provincial government to improve ventilation within the school system and provide rapid tests and personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks. Other jurisdictions, such as Ontario, have provided thousands of air purifiers to school boards.

Although the BC government has started making rapid tests available in some schools, there was no targeted funding for upgrading air filtration systems and adding HEPA filters. in schools.

In a briefing on Wednesday, Dr. Ciro Ugarte, director of health emergencies at PAHO, said HEPA filters and other air filtration systems are not effective ways to prevent or reduce transmission of the virus. COVID-19 unless there are other safety measures in place, such as wearing a mask and physical distancing.

“Air filtration devices… are not useful, per se, if there are no other measures in place, especially because the mode of transmission of the virus is even more people to anyone in enclosed environments,” he said, adding later. “When these measures are not in place, no air filter device will reduce transmissions, especially in these settings.”

Many jurisdictions across North America are beginning to remove mask mandates in public spaces or have already done so. Alberta and Saskatchewan as well as a handful of US states, including Florida and Texas, have already eliminated mask mandates in schools. Quebec plans to lift its mandate for schools next week while Ontario is considering the idea. California, Oregon and Washington are expected to withdraw their mandates by the middle of the month. British Columbia has not indicated whether it will remove its mask mandate in schools.

Ugarte said HEPA cleaning and ventilation devices would reduce the number of pollutants and containments but also particles that could contain viruses.

“Looking at all types of air filtration devices, standard HEPA devices will further reduce virus transmission, capture those particles as they pass through those filters,” he said.

Ugarte stressed that it is far more important to reduce person-to-person transmission through mask-wearing and distancing and by reducing surfaces that other people can touch frequently.

“When we have community transmission and we have a high level of cases that have been in a certain place, we need to use our masks correctly in schools, in restaurants, in other places,” he said. declared. “Even, the recommendation in restaurants is to use the mask when we are not eating or drinking. [in order to] reduce the possibility that we contract this virus or any other respiratory virus. Some of these droplets, small particles, can be inhaled by people standing there unprotected. »

While PAHO recommends people wear masks in schools, restaurants and other smaller indoor environments with poor ventilation, Ugarte said HEPA filters, while helpful, are just one layer. protection and that the other layers should not be ignored or abandoned.

“These measures have proven useful. HEPA filters are useful only if applied with other protective measures.

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