The Manitoba government is providing $6.8 million in additional funding to improve school ventilation with priority given to schools in regions with higher levels of community transmission.
In a government news release, Education Minister Cliff Cullen said "In consultation with public health officials, our government has provided guidance to school divisions about proper ventilation practices and how they should be maintained. Given the rising number of cases in some regions, this investment will enable schools to follow-up on changes recommended by experienced professionals as one way to further reduce the spread of COVID-19."
In August 2021, the province issued formal guidelines on ventilation for schools based on guidelines from the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers Reopening Guide for Schools. Schools are required to inspect their systems and seek solutions from qualified heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) experts as needed to ensure all actions taken are safe and protect the health of staff and students.
The dedicated fund will support ventilation improvements across Manitoba, including the purchase of stand-alone filters for classrooms or other projects that do not require construction. Applications will be reviewed by Manitoba Education and Manitoba Central Services, and prioritized based on mechanical need and factors that indicate public health risk.
This fund is in addition to $40 million that has been allocated this school year for divisions and schools to contribute towards COVID-19 related expenditures, including ventilation needs. Fourteen school divisions have reported $1.3 million in ventilation-related investments this year, building on close to $800,000 reported from last year.
The Manitoba government also continues to invest in capital construction upgrades in schools across Manitoba, including investing more than $21 million on ventilation projects already underway or scheduled. Projects that require additional capital investment will be considered through a separate process for expanded capital projects in public schools.
Ventilation upgrades are just one part of a multi-layered approach for reducing the risk of transmitting COVID-19, added the minister. Other approaches include physical distancing, surface cleaning and disinfection, hand hygiene, personal protective equipment, screening and the most effective tool, vaccination.
The minister noted the announcement came as young Manitobans between the ages of five and 11 began to be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. "We are delighted to see Manitoba parents and caregivers scheduling appointments for more than 15,000 five to 11 year olds," said Cullen. "We expect this this will have huge effect on schools by helping us achieve our shared goal of keeping schools safe and open."
For more information on COVID-19 safety in schools, visit: www.gov.mb.ca/asset_library/en/covid/k12_guideforparents.pdf