The schools will reopen fully from Monday, starting in the North region. The cabinet has issued guidelines to school leaders for ‘corona-proof’ education. School buildings, for example, must be well ventilated to prevent possible contamination. However, no one seems to know whether all schools can comply with these ventilation regulations, rules about which experts also have doubts.
Many schools have already checked the state of the ventilation of their own school buildings, Minister Arie Slob for Primary and Secondary Education and Media wrote to the House on Wednesday.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) does not know exactly how many educational institutions are involved and how many of those schools have their ventilation in order. According to him, the ministry has no overview of this. The term ‘a lot’ came up during conversations with the Primary and Secondary Education Council and the secondary education council, the umbrella organizations for primary and secondary education respectively, according to the spokesman.
Nevertheless, a spokesperson for the secondary education council said that the sector organization does not know how many schools have to adjust their ventilation systems or have already completed this. The General Association of School Leaders (AVS) also has no insight into this, says AVS director Petra van Haren.
‘Building guidelines not geared to epidemics’
Ventilation experts Philomena Bluyssen and Francesco Franchimon also do not have an unequivocal answer to this. They especially question the ventilation guidelines themselves, which they believe are not geared towards preventing epidemics.
These guidelines, provided by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), are based on the 2012 Building Decree. “It does not contain the entire word infection control,” says Franchimon. “It is mainly aimed at comfort, a fresh smelling air and the prevention of a stuffy space.” According to him, that is not surprising: “We never thought we had to take into account infectious diseases that spread through the air.”
Bluyssen, professor of indoor environment at TU Delft, is especially concerned about schools that were built before 2012 and may not be able to comply with the building regulations. According to her, ‘old’ schools often do not have mechanical ventilation, “an air system that provides 100 percent fresh air,” says Bluyssen.
What about those aerosols now?
According to the RIVM, good ventilation reduces the spread of the corona virus. This mainly happens because of the somewhat larger drops, according to the institute.
Franchimon and Bluyssen also have their doubts about this. They are concerned about the tiny droplets in the air, also known as aerosols, that some scientists believe can transmit the virus over long distances.
According to the RIVM (and health organization WHO), the role of aerosols in infections has not been proven and ventilation systems do not play a role in this.
‘Then just in your winter coat in class’
Nevertheless, the RIVM does not recommend the use of recirculation in one room as a precaution. In addition, a ventilation system blows the same purified air back into a room, without the addition of new air.
Research recently showed that such a ventilation system may have played a role in the spread of the corona virus in care institution De Tweemaster in Maassluis. Seventeen residents and eighteen employees were infected there shortly after each other in June, while staff members are said to have worn preventive mouth masks. Six residents died of COVID-19.
Viral particles were found in the ventilation system of the nursing home, but a causal relationship between the system and the infections has not (yet) been demonstrated.
In any case, RIVM, Franchimon and Bluyssen agree on one piece of advice, that is to open windows and doors opposite each other as often as possible in order to keep things clear. “Even in winter. Then just in your winter coat in class,” says Franchimon. “Mouth caps would also be possible”, Bluyssen adds. “They do that in other countries too.”