Governments ignore ‘paradigm shift’ call on ventilation to slow spread of COVID-19, experts say

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As Australia braces for a new year with open borders and a resulting surge in COVID-19 cases, leading scientists say there is an urgent need to better regulate indoor ventilation and the quality of the room. ‘air.

Australia is lagging behind other countries in rolling out air filtration systems in schools to help prevent the virus from spreading to unvaccinated children, experts have said.

Queensland University of Technology professor Lidia Morawska was recently named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world for her role in highlighting airborne transmission of COVID-19 .

She said Australia’s lack of indoor air quality standards is “a big deal” because without them “nobody is doing anything”.

“For a year and a half, the community has learned to wash their hands, to disinfect their hands, to clean surfaces… but nothing about cleaning the air,” said Prof Morawska.

She said a “paradigm shift” is needed in the design of public buildings to ensure that the air inside is clean.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) monitors – which measure human exhalation – should be displayed in “every public space” so that individuals can improve ventilation or leave if the concentrations are too high, she said.

High levels of carbon dioxide may indicate that better ventilation is needed to help reduce the risk of airborne virus transmission.

Professor Morawska’s advice is to “do everything possible” to bring the outside air inside.

If this is not an option and air conditioning does not reduce CO2 levels, air purifiers, such as High Efficiency Particulate Filters (HEPA), can be used.

“If we have air purifiers that filter the virus from the air, the risk of infection is greatly reduced,” she said.

A study from Melbourne found that two small, portable HEPA filters removed 99% of aerosols from a hospital room in 5.5 minutes.

“It could be in my lungs”

Queensland retiree Peter Lytwyn said he got a HEPA filter about 18 months ago to capture dust, dog hair and viruses like COVID-19.

“Different viruses are going around and I just wanted to get the best medical HEPA filter I could get.

Queensland man Peter Lytwyn with his HEPA air filter
Peter Lytwyn says the filter made a big difference to his health.(

ABC News: Emma Pollard

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“I feel it has improved my health, less sneezing, I probably haven’t had a cold in years,” he said.

Mr. Lytwyn said the system is quiet and easy to use.

“When I took out the old filter, there was quite a bit of dust on it, so it could be in my lungs instead.”

Professor Morawska said lives could have been saved in Australia if more had been done to reduce domestic transmission of COVID-19.

“So far governments haven’t made any announcements, statements or recommendations on ventilation and the whole problem of the virus in the air, so yes governments are failing us,” she said.

The Federal Ministry of Health said the government “is actively working on this issue.”

“The minister asked the Department of Health to work with other government agencies to consider additional protective ventilation measures that could be taken in environments where ventilation may be a factor leading to a small number of additional infections. “said a spokesperson.

“Ensuring good ventilation is only part of the response to support for Australia’s national plan to reopen.”

Air filter
Peter Lytwyn’s air purifier has three filters to remove pollutants.(

ABC News: Emma Pollard

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“We saw what happened”

Donna Green, an air pollution expert at the University of New South Wales, said HEPA filters reduced the transmission of COVID-19 by removing particles from the air and that there was no “no reason” to delay their use in schools.

She said she wrote to ministers in each state and territory in August to describe the approximate cost of installing HEPA filters in schools and that their responses were “patchy and inconsistent.”

“For the amount of money that is an upfront cost in the short term, that would save orders of magnitude compared to what will happen when these schools reopen – we’ve seen what has happened elsewhere in the world. with [COVID-19] transmission in children, ”said Dr Green.

“We won’t see vaccines for the under 12s at least until early next year, if we get them right, so there is a critical time now when we can do that … and I don’t see any reason for that. “

New prep age children sit on the floor in a circle in a prep class and play the monkey barrel game at Spring Mountain State School.
Experts say filtering indoor air in schools will be critical in slowing the spread of COVID. (

ABC News: Tim Swanston

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Dr Green said HEPA grade filters take time to build and there is “no time to delay” ordering them.

“So go ahead and do it right rather than letting a chaotic roll-out happen on an ad hoc basis for schools that can afford it, which is what concerns me right now.”

She said schools and daycares also need guidelines so they know how to avoid substandard products that produce ozone, which is an asthma trigger.

Are homemade air filters an option?

A quick internet search reveals step-by-step instructions on how to make basic air purifiers using replacement fans and filters.

Dr Green said that while “there is nothing wrong with them,” they are not as good as products that have been “properly made” and are not an ideal solution for schools trying to ” remove the virus from the air.

“The particles can get stuck on the outside of the box, so there is a risk that the particles will be more accessible to children as they pass.

“But in a pinch, you know there’s no reason you can’t use your own homemade products.”

Malcolm Elliott standing against a brick wall.
Malcolm Elliott said schools are looking for clarity.(

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“We must be ready”

Australian Primary Principals Association president Malcolm Elliott said schools were seeking “national level clarification” on ventilation, CO2 monitoring and air filters.

“It would be absolutely fabulous if the premiers and chief ministers could come together and come up with a plan that would help us, especially around this issue,” Elliott said.

He said there is now less acceptance of the idea that schools are places where children and teachers inevitably get sick.

“Without being pessimistic, there are health tips that say we need to prepare for the onset of other pandemics in the future.

A CO2 monitor
A CO2 monitor can be a good indicator of air quality.(

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“We have to recognize that these things have long term effects and we want to be ready and as well prepared as possible in our school environments for anything that might happen.”

The Queensland Catholic Education Commission said the issue of ventilation was “increasingly in the foreground” and looked forward to working with the state government and other school sectors to bring it about. remedy.

Dr Lee-Anne Perry
Dr Lee-Anne Perry of the Queensland Catholic Education Commission.(

ABC New: Emma Pollard

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The commission’s executive director, Lee-Anne Perry, said all guidelines should be “appropriate” to the Queensland context.

“Particularly when you talk about an issue like ventilation, the environment in Queensland and the structures of our schools and the design of the buildings are a bit different, especially in some southern states,” Dr Perry said.


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