Thursday, November 16, 2023

The Frustrating Run-Around on Filtration Units in Schools

This is a long but very informative video about what happened when people tried to improve air quality in schools. 

This is a very loose collection of things said that resonated with me in this meeting between Robert Bean and Adam Muggleton of Edifice Complex Podcast and Amanda Hu, a visual artist and safer schools advocate out of Alberta who got certified by the National Air Filtration Association despite not being an engineer. Most of this was explained by Amanda:

School boards have worked very hard and very creatively to avoid using HEPA filters. Some won't use donated models - and these aren't CR boxes, but approved, safety stickered HEPAs. In one board, when costing out adding HEPAs, they picked a model with the most power, which would require upgrading their entire electrical system, so they cited the outrageous costs as the stopper, despite many cheaper, low power alternatives. One board argued that ASHRAE says the air is fine, despite some of the highest people at ASHRAE writing a letter explaining the problems with their current set up. Many board claim many different falsities, like HEPAs blow the virus around more or don't work for this particle size. 

Even when kids started bringing CO2 monitors to class, which proved that the air quality was bad, they were told there's something wrong with their monitors. Even when kids could see wildfire smoke in the hallways, the schools still wouldn't add any filtration units.

No amount of quality evidence appears to deter them. 

In Edmonton, the school board did more than any others to improve their indoor air quality and then had significantly lower absences than Calgary schools. Edmonton used $6 million in reserve funds to clean the air in January 2022. Calgary didn't ask about using discretionary funds. But this landed Edmonton in hot water because they did something different, which indicated that there was more that could have been done. If everyone makes the same low level of effort to fix things, then they can argue that's the best they can do. Edmonton made it clear that other things could have been tried. Some schools in Calgary reported 20-25% absences during peak times, which definitely affects learning loss of the kids away and the kids present with a supply teacher or no teacher. Some kids are missing up to 40% of their classes for illness, and during the last surge, there were about 600 unfilled staffing positions. 

There was also a legal challenge to removing masks in Alberta, claiming that the government made decisions contrary to advice of the CMOH, and they found that mask mandates reduced outbreaks by three times, and that schools feed outbreaks into their communities. But this evidence wasn't compelling enough for the schools, and boards decided this level of illness was okay, justifying no needing to use all the tools because it's not a big deal now. The propaganda efforts succeeded far and wide. 

In Canada, the CMOH can override any other political entity, but they don't use that power. 

These are very expensive results relative to the cost of filtration units and N95s.

Amanda says she wishes for a level of acceptance and honesty that air quality is a problem in buildings. People in power need to tell the truth about where their buildings are at and where they're going from here - how they intend to fix the problems. The schools have further issues with crumbling infrastructure and reduced funding. All the time and effort boards spent avoiding using HEPA units could have gone to solving the initial problem.

Pride is a huge part of the problem. There's a credentialism thing that affects responses to parents, some of whom are licensed engineers, scientists, and doctors. School boards are largely anti-collaboration then become punitive. One parent was banned from school premises for casually asking a custodian about their filtration system while waiting for their kid at the end of the day.

Politics and pride, and we must make the peasants comply. For kids and parents, right and wrong is out the window; it's about compliance. Concerned parents who are seeing the risks are also some of the most medically vulnerable people fighting for their lives and the lives of their children. We need to determine who is responsible and how we can hold them responsible. These people are elected and should be beholden to constituents. 

The fundamental flaw in our society is that people in charge of doing the minimums can function most of the time, but the pandemic is not a normal situation, and we have people who invoke minimum requirements in a life and death situation, and they are the wrong people for the job. We need to grasp that essential flaw and remove responsibility from these people who aren't up to this challenge -- I don't think they really wanted this level of responsibility and don't have the mentality necessary for dealing with life and death situations. It requires a higher level of knowledge an operations and most of the people in charge don't have it.

There have been some real heroes where boards did take action, but there were implications if they got sued. Boards said that insurers thought CR boxes were fire hazards, but insurers said they're a good solution and needed along with all the other things (ventilation and masking). They're good ways to manage risk. But then the boards didn't do that and took away everything they had been doing. I don't understand that from a liability and risk management position. The level of personal risk as a board member signing off on that - they could be on the hook for something down the road. School boards have their own fiduciary responsibility to the operations of their schools, and they need to take that responsibility seriously. A parent at a board meeting noticed the door propped open, few people in a large room, and only 530 ppm CO2. So it's very clear the board knows how to mitigate infection, but they won't do it for the kids. There's lots of ways that money could be raised for CR boxes in every school, but now people have resigned themselves to lots of illness. I can see why people give up. Now part of the process is convincing people that they deserve better in the spaces they share with others.

My take on it all --> We stopped testing and tracing and masks in order to avoid any one institution or company being held responsible for anything. Once the virus was reliably everywhere, then people could no longer claim that their illness is due to a specific place or policy. They're letting people - children - get sick, disable, or die in order to avoid litigation. 

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