TORONTO, Feb. 19, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The science is clear: the virus is in the air and protections — especially for workers — must recognize this fact.
That’s the urgent updated message from a coalition of organizations and individuals to Canadian governments and public health officials.
In a follow-up to their letter of January 4, 2021 — now signed by about 650 Canadian and international scientists, engineers, occupational health and other specialists and organizations — they call on provincial and territorial authorities to start by bringing their guidance into line with that of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), at a minimum.
In January, the PHAC issued updated materials that take aerosol and airborne transmission more seriously and recommend improved ventilation. It now also allows the possibility of a higher level of personal protective equipment (PPE) in acute care settings, based on an individual healthcare worker’s assessments.
The authors say the PHAC and others must go further, to effectively protect workers and others. Others around the world — including Australia, England/UK and the United States (plus one yesterday) — have made similar calls since the January letter.
“We are very concerned about recent guidance from B.C. and Ontario, which insufficiently take aerosol transmission into account,” the letter says.
“It is one thing to hesitate to act when the hazard is little understood and the remedies uncertain,“ says Mario Possamai, Senior Advisor for the SARS Commission (2003-2007) and now an occupational health and safety consultant.
“It is quite another to know as much as we do about COVID-19’s airborne risks and how to mitigate them, and do nothing. History will not look kindly if, under our current exigent circumstances, we fail to act with urgency and purpose.“
“We need better informed government direction,” says Nancy Johnson, co-chair of the Ontario North Family Councils Network. It represents family members of long-term care residents.
“The government directives do not entirely accept or use the compelling evidence from enough relevant disciplinesthat this virus is being inhaled, so the directives don’t provide real protection for staff, residents or their families.”
“It’s become really clear that governments need to look around and look at other fields, with a more multi-disciplinary approach — engineers, aerosol scientists, occupational health specialists,” says Ashleigh Tuite, Assistant Professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
“It shifts the paradigm. If you look at those outbreaks in long-term care homes, you can’t say with a straight face that aerosols aren’t playing a role there, with the speed at which the outbreaks are spreading.”
Effective ventilation is an essential protection for those in enclosed spaces, whether it’s a centralized system or HEPA filtering units.
“We must attack the source of the disease, and the evidence for aerosol transmission is overwhelming,” says Gabriel Wainer, Professor of Systems and Computer Engineering at Carleton University. “That makes attention to aerosols and ventilation crucial. During the winter especially, we have to focus on the quality of the air we breathe — in workplaces, homes and public spaces.”
The follow-up letter reiterates the urgent need for updated guidance: clear public health messages about aerosol transmission and appropriate protections; ventilation standards and upgrades for public institutions and others; ensuring effective respiratory protection for healthcare and long-term care workers; and related enforcement.
It calls on governments to include the full range of relevant expertise to achieve this, including aerosol scientists, occupational hygienists, ventilation engineers, physicians and communications specialists.
For more information:
Laurence Svirchev, Vancouver: email@example.com, 604-720-5308
Dorothy Wigmore, Kitchener (Ontario): firstname.lastname@example.org, 519-749-3535
en français :
Stéphane Bilodeau, Sherbrooke: email@example.com, 819.780.9669
Michel Camus, Montréal: 514-973-4114
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