MONTREAL — Hundreds of scientists, doctors and other health experts from across Canada are calling for more aggressive measures to stop airborne spread of COVID-19.
The experts include more than 360 scientists, occupational health specialists, engineers, doctors and nurses who are expressing alarm over surging cases and hospitalizations. They say provincial prevention messages "continue to be deficient" when it comes to infection threats posed by shared indoor spaces.
Their concerns are detailed in an open letter addressed to Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu and provincial premiers and medical officers.
The experts want public health messages to more strongly warn of the risk posed in closed spaces, especially with winter forcing more people indoors.
They're also calling for officials to order the inspection of ventilation systems in schools, long-term care homes and other essential public institutions, and funding for necessary upgrades in those spaces.
Where ventilation is not possible, they say portable air filtration units that filter bioaerosols should be set up.
The World Health Organization and the Public Health Agency of Canada have recognized that COVID-19 can spread by aerosols – tiny, light particles expelled when people cough, sneeze or breathe that stay suspended in the air for longer periods of time.
But the experts say that hasn't resulted in better protective measures for health workers and other essential service workers.
"Prevention messages from provincial governments continue to be deficient," say the authors of the open letter sent Monday and available at the website masks4canada.org.
"They do not adequately inform the population about the risks of airborne transmission in shared room air. Employers in workplaces and public institutions must be fully aware of the risks of aerosol transmission and the measures that can be taken to properly limit these risks."
The letter pushes for reopening plans that include clear ventilation standards for businesses with higher risk of aerosol transmission such as restaurants, bars and gyms.
The experts also want assurances that fit-tested respirators are available to all high-risk healthcare workers and essential workers.
But they also warn that private homes and businesses can be a source of aerosol spread, too, and want officials to stress the importance of mitigating spread by routinely opening windows, turning on vented range hoods and bathroom fans, and masking even when distanced.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 4, 2021.
The Canadian Press