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Canada must upgrade ventilation to limit airborne spread of COVID-19: experts

Last Updated Jan 4, 2021 at 10:43 pm PDT


Canada needs to limit the spread of COVID-19 through shared indoor air, argues a letter signed by more than 500 experts

The letter urges the government to mandate funding for assessments and upgrades, better inform the public

Dr. Jennifer McDonald signed the letter, she argues the blame has been put on people more than airborne transmission

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Canada needs to limit the spread of COVID-19 through shared indoor air by upgrading poorly ventilated buildings and better inform the public of the risks of airborne transmission, argues a letter supported by hundreds of scientists and healthcare professionals.

The letter signed by more than 500, calls on the provincial and federal government to provide the necessary funding to upgrade problematic ventilation systems in buildings, like long-term care homes, as a more contagious strain of the virus pops up and case counts across the country soar.

RELATED: We should be upgrading ventilation to combat the virus, says expert

“What we are not addressing is the risk in shared-room air. The idea is that we have a lot of factories, buildings, schools, long-term care facilities with terrible ventilation, terrible indoor air quality and these places are essentially breeding grounds for COVID-19,” says Dr. Jennifer McDonald, a rehab physician at the Ottawa Hospital, and one of the letter’s signatories.

While more people are spending their time indoors over the winter, the letter argues the government is not doing enough to educate the public on aerosols — the tiny droplets that linger in the air — and how common the virus is transmitted this way, especially in places lacking efficient ventilation.

Another cause for concern McDonald points out is misplaced blame on workers during the pandemic.

“Something that we find frustrating is that there seems to be a lot of blame to the public as well as to the workers at these long-term care homes,” she says.

“And I think what we’re seeing is most people actually are trying to follow the rules. The problem is, the rules are not complete. So if you don’t tell people about this additional risk, they’re going to have trouble succeeding.”

Mask-wearing and proper handwashing are important, but McDonald argues not enough is being done in Canada to combat the virus and mandating publically funded buildings to have proper ventilation should be the next step.

McDonald compares COVID-19 to second-hand smoke: while there may be a strong smell sitting next to someone who is smoking a cigarette, it’s also likely to get a whiff even if someone is simply nearby.

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Back in July, 239 scientists penned a letter asking the World Health Organization to change its recommendations on the airborne transmission of COVID-19.

WHO acknowledged it is possible for the virus to spread through the air.