Poorly ventilated schools to get air monitors, cleaners under updated guidance

Move highlights unsuitability of many schools for modern era, say teachers

The Department of Education said it will arrange for the provision to schools of carbon dioxide monitors ‘over the coming months’. Photograph: iStock

The Department of Education said it will arrange for the provision to schools of carbon dioxide monitors ‘over the coming months’. Photograph: iStock

 

Poorly ventilated schools will be provided with air monitors and air cleaners to help reduce the spread of Covid-19 under updated guidance issued by the Department of Education.

Official advice up to now has been that schools should have doors and windows open to increase natural ventilation and set any air conditioning systems to 100 per cent fresh air.

In an update, it says these steps may now be supplemented by the use of carbon dioxide (CO2) monitors and, where needed, air cleaners.

The department said it will arrange for the provision to schools of carbon dioxide monitors “over the coming months”.

These will be provided automatically to primary schools and secondary schools and on an application basis for schools in the fee-charging sector.

In cases where poor ventilation continues to exist, the department says air cleaners may be considered in conjunction with other methods of ventilation.

Teachers’ unions have been critical over what they have described as a lack of attention paid to indoor aerosol transmission in often cramped and over-crowded classrooms.

Experts such as Orla Hegarty, the assistant professor of architecture at UCD and Dr Clíona Ní Cheallaigh, infectious disease consultant at St James’s Hospital, are among those who have called for the installation of carbon dioxide monitors in classrooms to keep a check on air quality.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said it welcomed the new move which it had been seeking, while the Teachers’ Union of Ireland said it put into sharp focus the unsuitability of many school buildings for modern teaching and learning.

“ In this regard, significant additional spending on education to bring us in line with international averages will be required in the coming years,” said the TUI’s general secretary Michael Gillespie.

Low transmission rates

Latest HSE testing figures for Covid-19, meanwhile, indicates that while positive cases are being detected among staff or pupils in hundreds of schools each week, transmission rates in these settings remain low.

The weekly testing report for May 9th-15th – delayed to the cyber-attack on the HSE – indicates that positive cases were detected in 246 schools.

Follow-up testing of 4,146 staff and pupils resulted in a further 120 positive cases being identified, a positivity rate of 2.9 per cent.

The rates were slightly higher in primary (3.3 per cent) than secondary (1.6 per cent).

Separately, the Department of Education has advised schools that the process for the identifying and managing close contacts has returned to normal.

Short-term measures were introduced to deal with the aftermath of the cyber-attack on the HSE which required schools to help identified close contacts.

In an update to its members, the INTO said it understood that close contacts will be identified from now on following risk assessments by public health experts.

“Appointments will then be generated for close contacts and sent to parents and staff members directly,” it said.

“ It is important that results can be linked to school facilities and this can only be done if they are managed through the appointments testing process. This enables early identification of potential clusters by public health, leading to better containment outcomes.”