COVID safety in schools 'contingent on ventilation,' says N.S. education minister

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Nova Scotia's minister of education says more operational details on school ventilation system checks could come as early as next week.

Zach Churchill told reporters Thursday that Public Health is going "above and beyond" when it comes to continuous assessment and maintenance of ventilation systems in schools.

"Right now our focus is on COVID safety in our schools and that, of course, is contingent on ventilation," he said. "Every single school has been checked before kids were back, they're in the process of being checked again."

Churchill noted the province is using $2.7 million in federal pandemic money to increase air quality inspections in schools and for ventilation improvements, if necessary.

"I realize that members of the media have been asking for more operational details on those ventilation system checks, so the regions are compiling those and I'm being told they'll be available early next week," he said.

Churchill was unable to say how many schools in Nova Scotia use "passive ventilation" — ventilation through natural means, like opening a window — instead of more advanced ventilation systems. He said the schools that rely on passive ventilation tend to be older.

As temperatures drop during the winter months, he said schools with passive ventilation are figuring out ways to safely get air flowing through classrooms.

"Operational staff, principals work with staff to find the perfect opportunity to open windows, open doors. This is consistent with the new national recommendations that came out around COVID as well," said Churchill.

"That doesn't need to happen during class time when students are there. It's about airflow through the building so our staff work to find the appropriate opportunities to do that."

Churchill said he has asked his staff how many schools rely on passive ventilation systems and he is currently waiting on the numbers. He did not indicate when that information would be available.

He said his focus is on COVID-19 management and "making sure that our kids can stay in school in a safe learning environment."

"Right now, we do have a legal obligation through our occupational health and safety legislation to ensure high-quality air, the same as any other public building in our province," said Churchill.

"We have a protocol in place to deal with any air quality concerns and I don't believe there's any issues with that process right now."

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