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
By now it's as predictable as the calls for thoughts and prayers: A mass shooting leaves many dead, and wild conspiracy theories and misinformation about the carnage soon follow. Within hours of Tuesday's school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, another rash began as internet users spread baseless claims about the man named as the gunman and his possible motives.
Families are sharing photos and stories of their loved ones, who lost their lives in a mass shooting in Texas that killed at least 19 children and two adults on Tuesday afternoon.
Conservative Party of Canada leadership hopefuls Scott Aitchison, Roman Baber, Patrick Brown, Jean Charest, Leslyn Lewis, and Pierre Poilievre squared off in the second official party debate on Wednesday night in Laval, Que.
Frustrated onlookers urged police officers to charge into the Texas elementary school where a gunman's rampage killed 19 children and two teachers, witnesses said Wednesday, as investigators worked to track the massacre that lasted upwards of 40 minutes and ended when the 18-year-old shooter was killed by a U.S. Border Patrol team.
Several parts of the country, including British Columbia and Canada's Maritime provinces, are likely to see wetter-than-normal conditions this summer, according to AccuWeather's annual summer forecast.
The Public Health Agency of Canada says it has now confirmed a total of 16 cases of monkeypox in the country, all in Quebec.
During an appearance on ABC's Good Morning America on Wednesday, adopted siblings Hannah Raleigh of Chicago and Limia Ravart of Montreal met in person for the first time after an ancestry test confirmed the two are in fact related.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cancelled plans to appear in person at a Liberal fundraiser in British Columbia Tuesday after RCMP warned an aggressive protest outside the event could escalate if he arrived, said a source close to the decision. The source spoke to The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.
A jury in Portland has convicted a self-published romance novelist - who once wrote an essay titled 'How to Murder Your Husband' - of fatally shooting her husband four years ago.
Was your home damaged by the Ontario storm? Insurance companies say payouts could take weeks to process
The insurance industry says it could take up to six weeks to get an idea of how many hundreds of millions of dollars in pay outs will be required from the weekend storm that brought death and destruction to Ontario and Quebec, but that early estimates are substantial.
Police have released new video of a recent incident in which a vehicle was caught doing doughnuts and speeding along the shoulder of busy Ontario roadways.
People all across Ontario are getting creative when it comes to netting a secondary income, otherwise known as a “side hustle,” and many are turning to secondhand economies thriving on online platforms.
As the inquiry into Nova Scotia’s mass shooting moves its public proceedings to Truro, many of the family members affected by the tragedy and their lawyers are boycotting the proceedings over the next week.
Former Chief Anchor Steve Murphy offers a timely perspective on the Mass Casualty Commission and the difference 30 years after the Westray inquiry.
Speaking off-script at an event in Halifax Wednesday morning, Canada's Minister of Public Safety said he was gutted by the latest mass shooting south of the border - the 27th in a school this year alone.
Two men and one woman are facing charges Wednesday after police say their vehicle struck a London police cruiser and then the suspects fled the scene on foot over the weekend.
OPP and Southwest Middlesex fire are on the scene of a fatal collision Wednesday afternoon involving a tanker truck and a passenger vehicle.
Jeff Ducharme was in his home office when a young man in a truck pulled up, ran up to the front of his home in Norwich, Ont. and stole his pride flag in broad daylight.
Sault Ste. Marie city council is asking staff to prepare a report on group homes. This comes after Ward 1 Coun. Paul Christian brought forward concerns this week about two such homes.
There are currently a dozen statues at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes property, and all are from the 1950s.
It’s a sign that summer is on the horizon. Farmers’ markets are opening in cities and towns across the north.
The City of Calgary has recruited three people from the commercial real-estate sector in an effort to get a new event centre to replace the aging Scotiabank Saddledome.
After a massacre at a Texas elementary school, some are looking into safety protections against gun violence in Calgary's school system while mental health experts are offering advice for difficult conversations about mass shootings.
Those who haven't received their bill by the first week of June are asked to contact 311.
New details are emerging about the tragic incident that killed 27-year-old Shelby Humble-Neale on Saturday.
Waterloo regional police say evidence of gunfire found in McLennan Park in Kitchener is connected to another shooting incident in the nearby area of Windflower Drive and Windflower Crescent.
Two 29-year-old men have been seriously injured following a collision in Baden, Ont., with one needing to be airlifted to a hospital outside the region.
The decision to focus on urgent and emergency health care to avert long waits played a key role in B.C.’s current primary care crisis, and the costlier care is compounding the problem.
A social media video that captures the moment a man gets Tasered by a Vancouver police officer is prompting calls for more training for police going out mental health calls.
A judge has refused to grant a B.C. cannabis company an injunction against a man who used a list of email addresses the company accidentally sent to all shareholders against it.
If you visit downtown Edmonton in the next 11 days, you might see some strange and unusual sights. Art installations and musical performances are popping up throughout the area as part of Downtown Spark.
Even though they cheer for opposite teams, a proposal by a Flames fan at Game 4 of the Battle of Alberta received a resounding "yes" from the Oilers-loving bride to be.
The body of a missing canoer has been located in northeast Alberta.
After a major tragedy, should parents wait for their children to express their feelings before talking about it?
Not having an answer to all of your child's questions about tragedies like the Texas school shooting is perfectly okay, according to a grief therapist with the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Helping students break down academic and social barriers, more Temi robots coming to St. Clair College
The Community Integration through Cooperative Education (CICE) program at St. Clair College received a $20,000 boost Wednesday morning.
Windsor police arrest final suspect sought in Forest Glade shooting, Major Crimes Unit continues investigation
Windsor police have arrested another suspect related to the shooting near a Forest Glade bowling alley in April.
'All it takes is one': Sask. RCMP partner with Washington police to publicize disappearance of Mekayla Bali
Saskatchewan RCMP and the Washington State Patrol announced a collaboration of efforts to locate Mekayla Bali, who was 16-years-old when she was last on April 12, 2016 in Yorkton.
A new art exhibit at the George Bothwell Library is hoping to examine and remove the feeling of shame associated with people who are deaf and hard of hearing.
For those looking to hop the border into Manitoba for their camping seasons, it started off on the wrong foot for Duck Mountain Provincial Park.
NEW THIS MORNING
NEW THIS MORNING | Here's what you need to know about the storm cleanup in Ottawa today
Hydro Ottawa is hoping to energize hydro lines in the Merivale Road area today, as the cleanup continues following last Saturday's devastating storm.
The president of Hydro Ottawa says "with a little bit of luck" power will be restored along the Merivale Road area on Thursday, bringing power to another 15,000 to 20,000 customers still in the dark following Saturday's storm.
The Ottawa Catholic School Board says all schools with power will be open on Thursday, but 14 schools without power will remain closed.
The Prime Minister toured the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, which is working to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
Saskatoon Police Service says that the use and presence of potent new synthetic opioids known as nitazenes are difficult to track and monitor.
A 48-year-old semi-truck driver was killed in in a rollover near Meadow Lake on Tuesday.