OzSAGE urges the NSW Department of Education to develop a comprehensive plan for providing safe indoor air for children in NSW schools as Victoria has done so that children can return to school with better protection against SARS-COV-2.
Children will have low vaccination rates (12 years and over) or be unvaccinated (if under 12 years) when schools re-open for the last term of the school year. Overseas experience shows that when adult vaccination rates are high, epidemics occur in children and schools.
The OzSAGE position of “No-one left behind” includes children. It also includes children in special schools and in disadvantaged, regional and remote communities. We reiterate that schools can and should be made safer for them to return to. Schools should receive the same level of care and attention as NSW Parliament House has to improve ventilation. OzSAGE notes the plan to keep NSW Parliamentarians safe includes rapid antigen testing, physical distancing and at least eight air changes per hour indoors.
“Air purifiers are important tools for keeping indoor air particulate matter levels low, if the building’s natural or mechanical ventilation system cannot achieve this. They work by drawing air through a filter and in the process filtering the particles that are present in the air. These could be virus-laden particles from human respiratory activities, breathing, talking or coughing, and if they are removed from indoor air, the risk of infection decreases. It could also be bushfire smoke particles penetrating indoors, making indoor particulate matter levels unhealthy. It is strongly recommended that schools that do not have ventilation systems capable of keeping indoor particles down be equipped with air purifiers.” Said 2021 Time100 Distinguished Professor Lidia Morawska.
The first step is to test the indoor ventilation of school buildings, and if poor ventilation is identified, remediate and ameliorate, as outlined in OzSAGE Advice on safe indoor air.
Crowded indoor spaces such as schools where vaccination rates are low, represent high-risk scenarios for transmission of COVID-19. It is essential to recognise the risk of airborne transmission in these environments and to adopt a layered strategy to make schools safe. This includes focussing on items including ventilation, occupancy guidelines, and masks for example.
“While opening doors and windows will increase outdoor air into classrooms to some extent, it is not enough to guarantee that sufficient outdoor air is delivered into classrooms in all cases. Implementing measures such as High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) purifiers enables particles containing viruses to be removed from indoor environments” said OzSage’s Kate Cole
Recent statements by the Education Department Deputy Secretary suggested that persons with scientific or medical qualifications would not recommend interventions such as HEPA filters. OzSage is a multi-disciplinary network of Australian experts from a broad range of sectors, including those with science and medical qualifications. OzSage offers decision support, underpinned by the best scientific evidence to the Department of Education to support the opening of schools in a safe way.