Union says schools 'left to scramble' as province announces $25 million for school ventilation

In the fight against the spread of COVID-19 in the classroom, portable HEPA air purification units are front and centre.

"The air is pulled in from the bottom. It goes through two stages of filtration, and the exhaust comes out of the top," said the director of development for Aeroex, Erik Goglidze.

On Wednesday, the province announced that $25 million would go towards improving ventilation in schools with portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters as kids gear up to return to school.

The money will add roughly 20,000 new HEPA units to the approximately 50,000 units already used in shared areas like gyms, classrooms and libraries.

This includes all kindergarten classrooms regardless of the school's ventilation system, as these students are not required to wear masks.

It's a demand manufacturers, like Aerox, says will be hard to keep up with.

"The industry hasn't seen such demand in the past, and supplies haven't been able to adjust to the demand because of supply chain problems with shipping overseas and many other factors that go into it," says Goglidze.

"We noticed activity from school boards starting in late 2020, and it really picked up at the beginning of 2021. We are an approved supplier for the Ontario Education Marketplace, where we've gone through the bid process to become a supplier in that marketplace."

When it comes to changes in Simcoe County, the Simcoe County District School Board says funding last fall went to improving ventilation and filtration systems in its schools.

It could not provide any specific information saying it needs time to review the announcement.

Time the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation says just isn't there.

"Schools are left to scramble at the last minute to try and make sure these filters get into schools, but 20,000 units are going to be really a fraction of what's needed," said Jen Hare, president of the union.

Meanwhile, the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board says currently all, but one of its schools has mechanical ventilation. It too says it needs time to review the latest information.

"Right now, we've had the initial information presented to us right now. We need to take it back to our facilities people to determine the impact within our own facilities," said board chair Joe Zerdin.

It's unclear whether or not the units will be ready in schools across Simcoe Muskoka by the fall.

Both boards say more information will become available in the coming weeks.