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Ventilation 3

September 27, 2020 pm30 5:37 pm

No one signed off on your building’s ventilation being safe. The DoE report documented conditions. The UFT inspector documented some conditions, and asked the custodian, or whoever they found on duty, about others. no one signed off on your building being safe.

This is a summary. The only new ground in this post is at the end, about heating. I wrote about ventilation twice before, here and here. And today everyone is caught up in discussion of the CSA resolution, which is important. But I am trying not to get so caught in the news of the day that I forget about the news of the year (we are not yet remote, and need to get there for the safety of ourselves and our students and our city).

No one measured airflow in your rooms. (In 99% of cases). They checked that some airflow existed (toilet paper or streamers). They needed to measure. This is not an expense item. It is a time item. And despite DoE and UFT assurances from late June and early July, the process did not actually start until mid- or late- August.

Spaces might be safer under certain conditions. Those conditions might include the position of the door, or which windows are open. A fan might be required. To my knowledge school personnel have not received any such recommendations.

Ventilation that is filtered (HEPA or MERV-13 or higher) should be treated differently than ventilation that is not filtered at that level, or not filtered at all, or absent. School staff should have instructions about how to treat these spaces differently. To my knowledge school personnel have not received any such instructions.

The DoE has not released ventilation guidelines*. The UFT has not released ventilation guidelines. We (members, chapter leaders) cannot evaluate our spaces against guidelines, because the internal guidelines have not been shared with us. We cannot point to a ventilation report that has marked our spaces as “safe” because the reports (DoE and UFT) do not mark spaces as safe.

None of this means that your classroom is dangerous. it means we don’t know. You don’t know. And if you are suspicious, there is not a report out there saying you are ok; there is a not a person who decided that your room presents no risk or low risk. That is worrying.

* DoE guidelines are vague and are not quantifiable. The existence of exhaust does not ensure adequate air-exchange. At crucial lines the DoE assures is that issues have been addressed, without addressing issues.

Also, Heating

When it gets cold, heat gets turned on. Heat in most of our school buildings does not come through the same vents as our air conditioning. It comes through base boards and radiators. Most of our schools do not have “ventilated heating.”

That toilet paper test? In most schools it would fail during heating season. Why do they do the toilet paper test? To see if air is coming into the room through a ventilation system – so that they can surmise that the air in the room is being exchanged with outside air. They want to know, or should want to know, and we need to trust that there are N number of “air-exchanges” per hour. The more air exchanges per hour (the more quickly the air is changed out), the safer the space. When a roomful of air leaves, some of the droplets leave it with it. When new air arrives from outside, that’s good. Air comes in through ducts that often carry A/C, and leaves through “returns.” And in my school, those same ducts carry the heated air when it gets cold.

But in most schools, heated air does not arrive like that. Heat comes as in as warmth that “radiates” from radiators – that’s not a flow of air into the room. The air is not being exchanged. The air is not being filtered.

is this a far off issue?  Last year the highs in late October were in the low 50s. Last year the high on November 2 was 50º, on November 8 was 41º, and on November 13 was 34º. That’s not atypical for the last few years. Heating season officially starts October 1 in NYC, but there will almost certainly be serious need by mid-November. So this heat stuff will become an issue, probably between 4 and 7 weeks from now. That’s close.

We are starting school for elementary schools on Tuesday, and we do not have a plan to keep the air we breathe safe for a full month.

Will opening windows work? Well, when it’s cold, that will be uncomfortable. And I heard a high-level elected UFT official this past week mooting opening the windows a crack. But opening a crack lets less air in. On the other hand, outside pressure is higher in the winter, so even with a crack, perhaps a stream of cold air will rush in. But when a room has a cold draft, kids (and adults) will scoot away from the cold air – remember, social distancing? Not a good idea.

He also talked about pre-filtering air before heating it, and one or two other crackpot ideas. I did not hear anything that had a chance of working.

Take away? Ask in your building if your heat is ventilated. And if not, ask them today (well, Tuesday) about the plan for cold weather, because it is about to arrive, and because there probably is no plan.



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