Originally published as a column on Monday, February 22, 2021 on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News.

You may have peeked at the news of the new variants appearing in some schools in the Lower Mainland. As I started writing, two more schools have been added to the exposure list for the U.K. variant, bringing the total number to five.

We are told there are ways to reduce the risk and generally improve our state of health. Eating healthy and getting daily exercise, washing hands and airing out properly so fresh air can reduce the number of disease-causing particles.

Pause on the last item and here’s some controversial news to go with it: a school in Abbotsford had some its windows screwed shut, by the order of their respective school officials, because teachers kept opening them.

The teachers were not being absurd. They had a COVID exposure the previous week, plus one of the teachers contracted the disease. The ventilation system they were counting on was in fact inexistent.

Teachers did what seemed logical given the circumstances: they aired out regularly. That was until contractors were brought in to fix the issue by sealing the windows.

That’s never the answer. Not according to WorkSafeBC anyway, who suggests that windows and doors should be opened to improve air circulation.

Of course, there’s that fine balance between maintaining health but also not breaking the bank with a high energy bill, so you do it judiciously. Bottom line is that no matter the season, you actively reduce the concentration of pathogens when you open windows.

There is growing evidence that COVID-19 spreads via aerosols. We all release them as we talk, cough or sneeze. Larger droplets land on surfaces, hence the recommendation to wash hands often and keep hands away from our faces, but the smaller aerosols keep floating around and that’s where poor ventilation can make things worse.  

Which is why opening doors and windows regularly is one of the most cost-efficient ventilation methods, more so when the existing system is not confirming to latest standard.

Sure, we’ve been maintaining the idea that school transmission is low to non-existent and that kids are least as risk because of their age. But what about the staff they come in contact with at school and the adults at home?

After a few too many incidents of exposures and mystery numbers of positive cases in schools across the province, we now know that school transmission is possible and it keeps happening. With the new variants showing up too.

It makes sense that districts and health authorities would be looking for ways to further reduce the risks of exposure in schools. And it makes sense that teachers who show up for work every day should have a say in how this is done.

Some schools may have the most up-to-date ventilation systems in place, but that’s no consolation for those who don’t. And if that’s the case, well, let’s have them open windows and doors as they see fit, to help reduce the exposure risk.

According to a recent survey by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, more than half do not feel that the health and safety measures are adequate, which makes them feel unsafe at work. As a result, 34 percent of teachers are considering an early career exit due to the challenges added by the pandemic, not just safety-wise but also dur to the increased workload.

We depend on having good education and we have many good educators who are willing to put in the hard work to make it happen. Losing any is not something our kids can afford, or our society in general.

As I wrap this up, the BCTF President Teri Mooring just issued a statement asking the Ministry of Education, Provincial Health Officer and Health Authorities ‘to do more to protect staff, students and the families they all go home to.’

With the new variants showing a rapid spread in schools and the measures for the original COVID-19 strain still lacking, the teachers’ demands are unequivocal and for good reasons: ‘School districts need to be able to exceed the health guidelines to ensure everyone in schools is better protected, especially when there has been an exposure to a COVID-19 variant. This will help keep people in schools safe, but also prevent the variants of concern from spreading to vulnerable adults living in students’ homes. We also need to see widespread rapid testing when a COVID-19 variant of concern shows up in schools. This is not the time to be conservative with testing.’

It’s high time they are being listened to. The times allow for no dawdling in helping to prevent what could become a deeper crisis yet. And that’s before even mentioning the upcoming spring break.