Business is flowing for Air Sniper Canada, with hundreds of contracts to improve ventilation and filtration in Canadian schools as children head back to class amid a fourth wave of COVID-19 in Canada.
“We can protect the whole system through the central HVAC system or we can do stand-alones that actually just go into classrooms,” said CEO Stuart Henley.
Most of their contracts are in Ontario, thanks to provincial funding. But, so far, the Calgary company has yet to make its way into Alberta schools — despite calls for improvements from doctors and student advocacy groups.
Earlier this month, an Alberta coalition sent a letter to the government, calling for, among other things, portable HEPA filtration units.
“Despite widespread availability of vaccines for people older than 12, we find ourselves at the start of a fourth wave with the highly contagious Delta variant. Elementary school-aged children are not yet eligible for vaccination and remain at high risk from a far more contagious Delta wave, particularly in the absence of effective mitigation measures,” the letter reads.
“It would only cost $65 million to have portable, portable filtration in every [K-6] classroom in Alberta,” said Wing Li with the student advocacy group, Support Our Students. “So considering what you’re mitigating, the problems [it] would be mitigating in terms of cases, and preventing hospitalization, too. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable ask.”
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“During the pandemic, Alberta’s government provided school divisions $250 million in accelerated capital maintenance funding for things like HVAC and mechanical upgrades,” said Nicole Sparrow, spokesperson with the Ministry of Education. “Of the $250 million provided by the provincial government, school divisions chose to only spend approximately $44 million on H-VAC and ventilation upgrades in schools.”
In response, the Calgary Board of Education said they were hiring additional staff to support the 2021-22 school year.
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“In the case of the CBE, the grant was invested in such things as enhancing cleaning in schools by hiring hundreds of additional custodial staff, hiring additional teachers to support online learning and in so doing reduce the number of students and staff in schools, and procuring equipment and supplies such as face masks, acrylic barriers, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer,” officials said in a statement. “These expenses were essential to adhere to the requirements laid out by Alberta Health Services and Alberta Education.”
The Calgary Catholic School District maintains its classrooms are well-prepared, saying “the district has historically prioritized the modernizing of HVAC systems in all of our school annually investing millions of dollars into our heating and ventilation systems.”
“Regardless of age, our classroom spaces (occupied spaces) meet or exceed ventilation (air exchanges per hour) targets suggested to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
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And while researchers warn not all air filtration devices may be effective, most seem to agree that any improvements to air quality are worthwhile investments.
“It reduces sick days, increases productivity, reduces the effect of allergies, other risk factors like wildfire smoke, plastic particles, air pollution. So we already know it’s beneficial,” said mechanical engineer and researcher at the University of Alberta, Brian Fleck. “In addition to that, it can also reduce transmission of COVID-19.”
“Investment in HVAC give you a positive return, regardless of COVID-19.”
Fleck was one of the signatories on a recently guideline prepared by the HRAI (Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada), titled Reducing the Risk of Virus Transmission via HVAC Systems in Schools.
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