New ventilation systems are on the way for N.L. schools, but many of them won't be in place when K-12 classes resume next week, Education Minister Tom Osborne said Tuesday.
The province issued a tender for 4,000 ventilation systems in mid-August with a stipulation that they be delivered within two weeks of purchase.
Osborne told CBC last month that he was "optimistic" the province could install most or all of those air filtration systems before the first day of class, but warned that supply chain volatility could delay the process.
This week, he said while many of the systems have been installed, some schools will have to wait a little longer.
"As we had indicated from the very start, certainly through the course of September, classrooms will be equipped with the air purification or filtration systems," Osborne said.
Tony Stack, CEO and director of education for the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, said priority will go to schools that don't currently have an air ventilation system, as well as K-6 schools, whose students are not eligible for vaccination.
"These are very simple units to install, simply open the box and plug them in," Stack said. "There are filtration units in them and they will increase air quality."
In the meantime, Stark said an open-window ventilation policy is recommended as long as the weather allows for it, "which quite simply is opening the windows and encouraging all staff to it to adhere to that," he said. "And then as the fall and weather gets a little bit colder, it's just nice to have that device there to augment."
A breath of fresh air
The province's back-to-school plan announced Aug. 12 signalled a return to mostly normal times: barring any high-risk scenarios, the plan contained no requirements for cohorts or physical distancing. It also marked an end to mask requirements, making N.L. the only province other than Saskatchewan to not require face coverings in schools or on buses.
Stack said Tuesday he was confident in the current approach.
"We're not out of the woods yet," he said. "However, we have trusted in the expert guidance of our chief medical officer and the entire team of public health. We work closely with them. I was discussing with an official just this morning about procedures. So we're in a good place."
Osborne said the back-to-school plan is supported by low COVID-19 numbers and high vaccination rates.
"We've done exceptionally well in this province when it comes to the COVID," Osborne said. "We've seen a couple of spikes, but we haven't seen the waves that other provinces or other jurisdictions globally have seen."
"We've done very well in terms of vaccines," he continued. "We're in better shape this time this year than we were this time last year, because we've got 75 percent of the population fully vaccinated."