Opinion: Public health doctors must be held accountable for reopening schools with unsafe ventilation, says group of health experts, scientists
As Yogi Berra the legendary baseball catcher put it, “it's déjà vu all over again”.
Quebec's decision to reopen schools on Jan. 17 has many experts and parents shaking their heads in disbelief. It defies scientific logic as COVID-19 hospital, ICU admissions and deaths have hit record highs, while critical issues such as school ventilation and effective masking strategies are neglected or belittled.
This coincided incongruously with Health Minister Christian Dubé telling us “We are almost at the point of no return”, that the stage 4 "délestage" may no longer be enough and that we should see more critical surgeries cancelled, something unthinkable just a few weeks ago.
To make matters worse, the situation in Quebec hospitals is now the most critical than in all G7 countries.
Most agree that kids need to go to school, but schools must be foremost safe and sanitary.
Children do not live in isolation. If they get sick, they may well transmit the virus to other family members, to the community and eventually to the most vulnerable.
What Quebec Premier François Legault proposes falls far short of the Ontario plan to go full out with the widespread installation of air purifiers/exchangers in every classroom, every school cafeteria, and every gym as well as providing N-95 masks to teachers among other protective measures.
The Legault government justified its inaction through the inaccurate pretenses that there "is no problem with school ventilation", that "SARS-Cov-2 is transmitted only marginally via aerosols", that "there is no significant transmission from schools to the community", that "rapid tests were too unreliable."
The real problem is that similar fallacious arguments are still being used by Quebec leaders and public health officials today as they were since the beginning of the pandemic despite all scientific evidence to the contrary.
What is particularly galling is the persistent infantilization of the population by using simplistic and specious statements unsupported by scientific data, coupled with a paternalistic attitude toward the "inept" masses.
Having to fend for themselves, some school boards felt compelled to purchase air purifiers as a stop-gap measure. Caught off guard, Quebec public health officials falsely claimed that air purifiers "could be dangerous" if the devices were improperly installed or maintained.
Contrary to the claims from Quebec’s ministry of health experts that HEPA portable air purifiers have not been demonstrated effective to prevent airborne disease transmission, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends their use, especially in high-risk areas, as does the Canadian Public Health Agency.
Quebec's answer is that air exchangers are better than air purifiers since they remove stale air and replace it with outside air which is true in many situations, but they are more costly and complex to install, whereas air purifiers can be installed professionally the same day.
However, effective risk mitigation strategies especially in times of imminent danger require immediate action.
So, why did Quebec not offer the air exchanger option last year to all school boards? Why were English-language school boards left out on their own to purchase air purifiers and denied any public health guidance? How are the $432 million in federal money bestowed to improve school air quality being used?
Belatedly, Quebec is now distributing carbon dioxide (CO2) readers to 70 per cent of schools. Such monitors can indicate when opening windows (an unrealistic option on cold winter days) or evacuating a room is indicated to reduce the risk of airborne SARS-Cov-2 transmission, but they do not prevent the underlying cause of viral transmission as they do not purify nor refresh the air in a room.
The best anti-COVID strategy is to invest massively in air exchangers and air cleaners. Currently, only 500 air exchangers are available for the whole province, a drop in the ocean of 48,000 classrooms.
After decades of neglect, Quebec’s inadequate school ventilation systems are a major health issue in the present pandemic.
We cannot wait years for the direly needed repairs. To blunt the COVID-19 pandemic, air exchangers and HEPA ventilators are the required short-term solution. Quebec knows that a majority of schools are not complying with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) air filtration/exchange standards for schools to reduce airborne SARS-Cov-2.
Recently, media outlets reported on the loss of confidence toward Dr. Horacio Arruda, alleging he lacked autonomy from his political leaders and merely served as a cover for them. The arrival of Dr. Luc Boileau as the new interim public health director signified a potential hope for science-driven policies.
Unfortunately, his first decision on the job was to give the green light to reopen the schools on Jan. 17.
Boileau repeated the same trope that flies in the face of scientific consensus, that “there is no evidence that schools amplify COVID-19 transmission to the community,” sweeping aside international and Canadian studies which say otherwise. He dismissed Quebec's own data, which showed a disproportionate increase in outbreaks in elementary schools from September to December 2021. Only very recently, on Jan. 19, did he reluctantly understate that opening schools may induce "a little bit" more transmission.
Dr. Boileau is already giving us an uneasy feeling of déjà vu.
As Quebec's leaders and public health officials depart blatantly from science and precautionary principles, an increasingly skeptical media has been reaching out to doctors and scientists working in the health field and in academia to obtain more reliable and trustworthy information.
We do not hold the same high expectations from politicians as we do for doctors working in the public health field. These medical professionals hold enormous responsibilities, and their conduct must be exemplary.
Public health doctors must be held accountable to the same quality and ethical standards as those working in the clinical field who can face severe consequences should they fail in their duty to provide quality care to their patients according to the best available medical standards.
Never has this been so true as it is now.
Michael Levy, M.P.H. (Master’s in Public Health), environmental health specialist and epidemiologist
Michel Camus, Ph.D., environmental health epidemiologist (retired)
Nancy Delagrave, physicist, scientific coordinator of Covid-Stop
Stéphane Bilodeau, eng., Ph.D., FIC, Indoor Air Quality Task Force Coordinator, World Health Network
Nimâ Machouf, Ph.D., epidemiologist, consultant in infectious diseases, lecturer at Université de Montréal’s School of Public Health
Pierre-Jules Tremblay, eng.
Donald Vinh, M.D., infectious disease specialist and medical microbiologist
Marie Jobin, PhD, organisational psychology
Steeve Tremblay, occupational health and safety consultant
Montreal Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Quebec's health ministry announced Thursday evening there are two confirmed cases of monkeypox in the province, while 20 other suspected cases are still under investigation.
Canada is banning China's Huawei Technologies and ZTE, another Chinese company, from participating in the country's 5G wireless networks, citing national security and cybersecurity concerns. Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino made the announcement about prohibiting products and services from these 'high-risk vendors,' in Ottawa on Thursday.
A recent study revealed that COVID-19 rapid antigen tests may be less sensitive to newer variants, leaving some to wonder just how accurate these tests actually are. Experts share how to get the most accurate results when testing for the virus.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia on Thursday of weaponizing food and holding grain for millions of people around the world hostage to help accomplish what its invasion of Ukraine has not -- 'to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people.'
A leaked draft showing that the U.S Supreme Court justices are preparing to overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion-rights ruling has sparked debate in Canada, including whether Catholic hospitals can impede your access to abortion.
Billionaire Elon Musk took to Twitter late on Thursday to denounce as 'utterly untrue' claims in a news report that he had sexually harassed a flight attendant on a private jet in 2016.
The man accused of attacking comedian Dave Chappelle during a performance in Los Angeles earlier this month is now facing attempted murder charges -- for an entirely different incident.
A painting by Nova Scotia artist Maud Lewis that was once traded for a few grilled cheese sandwiches, recently sold for an astounding $350,000 at auction.
Famed British singer and songwriter Ed Sheeran and his wife, Cherry Seaborn, have welcomed the birth of their second daughter.
Ontario's election campaign will run half virtually, half in-person today, as the leaders for the New Democratic and Green parties isolate with COVID-19.
Nearly 1,000 cases of a new Omicron COVID-19 subvariant dubbed 'BA.2.20' have been detected in Ontario, health officials say.
INVESTIGATION | Details vanish from Ontario MPP investment property disclosures as their value skyrockets
An unpublished decision by a provincial watchdog has removed many details from view of the real estate investments of dozens of candidates vying for re-election, even as those assets surge in value to more than $36 million, a CTV News investigation has found.
An independent group should review the use-of-force policy that guides New Brunswick police to ensure it is concise and understood by all officers in the province, a coroner's jury recommended Thursday.
As a former undercover RCMP officer and depot instructor, Calvin Lawrence has a blunt assessment of the RCMP response to Nova Scotia’s April 2020 massacre.
The RCMP say the commission of inquiry into the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia will be violating its own rules if Mounties who endured trauma are called to testify without some form of accommodation.
It’s expected to take several days for Hanover police and the Ontario Fire Marshal to investigate the blaze the tore through a downtown building.
If you think that long weekends always means a spike in gas prices, you’ll be pleased to know that this Victoria Day weekend is expected to be the exception to that rule.
Mercedes-Benz confirmed on Thursday that it recently sold the world's most expensive car. A very rare 1955 Mercedes-Benz SLR coupe that had been kept in the German automaker's collection was sold to a private owner for €135 million, the equivalent of $142 million.
A 12-year-old Ottawa boy is sharing his story after a magnet fishing trip turned up an unexpected find.
Drivers are set to get some major relief at the pumps ahead of the long weekend with gas prices expected to take a huge drop in Ontario.
Ongoing delays at Toronto Pearson International Airport have seen passengers waiting on tarmacs and in long lines, and some travelers are now deciding to reroute their plans.
Thousands of Albertans were stunned Wednesday night when Premier Jason Kenney announced his impending resignation from the job.
The Flames delivered some not so hot news and some good news Thursday regarding viewing parties for upcoming games.
A 25-year-old Calgary man is facing several charges in connection with a random stabbing that took place on a CTrain on Wednesday.
Provincial police announced Wednesday the human remains found in the water in Dunnville, Ont., the day before are that of a young girl.
There has been a number of local incidents where trucks have hit bridges within the span of just over a week and it is causing concerns for driving instructors, community members and police.
Many shoppers in Metro Vancouver are looking for ways to stretch their grocery budget as they deal with the rising cost of food.
A small team of around 20 employees at Burnaby's Albert Labs recently received a Health Canada license to further pursue its work in producing psilocybin from mushrooms.
Wages vs. inflation: As costs rise, living wage advocates hope to see B.C. better address affordability
With Canada’s inflation rate hitting a 31-year high last month, people are paying a lot more for many basic needs including food and shelter, and wages have not kept up.
With Jason Kenney having stepped down as leader of Alberta's United Conservative Party, who is now leader of the province?
After outlining a violent 24 hours in downtown Edmonton, the city's police chief promised Thursday to scramble more officers into the core faster than previously planned.
Two men are dead after separate attacks in Chinatown on Wednesday, police said a day later.
Windsor-Essex residents can expect some hot weather to start the Victoria Day long weekend.
With a slight relief at the pumps expected ahead of the Victoria Day long weekend, experts don’t anticipate gas price to continue dropping long-term.
Damon Winney, broker of record at Jump Realty, says more listings are hitting the market which is helping to turn the table against what once was a heavy sellers’ market.
Saskatchewan’s premier says Jason Kenney’s resignation from his post in Alberta is a “loss.”
The WHL U15 draft is the time where teams, players, families and fans can look toward the future of their respective franchises.
The spring session of the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly came to a close on Thursday, wrapping up 10 weeks of fierce debate in the house.
NEW THIS MORNING
NEW THIS MORNING | Ottawa gas prices drop below $2 a litre at the start of the long weekend
Your long weekend road trip will be a little cheaper today, as gas prices drop below $2 a litre at Ottawa stations.
Saskatoon police investigating after reports of shots fired, male found dead behind apartment building.
Saskatoon police are investigating after reports of two men being injured, shots fired and one person found dead.
A Saskatoon woman says she knew she wasn’t dealing with a typical real estate company the day Epic Alliance took over her property in 2019.
Charmaine Poorman isn’t ready to forgive the man accused of killing her brother, but she says her brother would.