MONTREAL -- Despite comfortable warmth in the first few days of November, Montreal schools are looking ahead and planning for a winter likely to be made difficult by COVID-19.

On Monday, the Lester B. Pearson School Board approved the purchase and installation of more than $500,000 worth of ventilation equipment in its schools, anticipating that cold days will force windows closed and put both students and teachers at greater risk of infection.

The move comes after Canada followed the lead of the World Health Organization, acknowledging COVID-19 can spread through airbone droplets. It’s spurring public health to address the issue of ventilation in schools.

“Ventilation is something we need to look at, but it doesn'’t take the place of hand washing, distancing,” said public health director Horacio Arruda.

Over the next few weeks, the Lester B. Pearson School Board plans to install 420 units in buildings that are either naturally or mechanically ventilated. Where windows can be opened to let air flow, the board intends to install air purifiers equipped with HEPA filters, which have been shown to be able to catch COVID-19 particles.

For those places without windows that rely exclusively on mechanical airflow, the board has ordered MERV 13 filters, which can snag airborne viruses as the air circulates through the ventilation system.

The HEPA filters will be the first to arrive, as soon as next week, and the board has started preparing teams to install the units on classroom walls. The going will be slow, the board warned, saying that the installation could take several weeks to be fully complete.

These expenses are being mostly shouldered by the school board so far. Like other school boards, the LBPSB has received funding from the provincial government but they have had to balance the safety afforded by new air filters against more traditional purchases of school supplies.

This work is expected to finish before winter sets in, although early snows this year indicate winter might have its own schedule. 

The English Montreal School Board hasn't purchased any new equipment and instead plans to leave the windows open when students aren't in class.

It’s a move opposition parties say shows how slow the government is reacting.

“I don't know if you want to go back 100 years ago? That might be the way to think about it,” said Liberal leader Dominique Anglade.

“Parents are really stressed out right now when they get emails saying the windows will be open all day long and their kids will have to wear layers and layers of clothing,” added Parti Quebecois MNA Veronique Hivon. 

According to government numbers, nearly 900 schools in Quebec are dealing with active COVID-19 cases

Many are pointing to schools as the main transmission point.

“In the Montreal region schools are the main driver of the transmission of the virus,” said Quebec solidaire MNA Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.

Not the case, said Arruda. 

“It's a mix of things, not only one driver. Schools, workplaces, and communities,” he said.

- With files from CJAD 800 radio