Schools in England are to be supplied with carbon dioxide monitors to improve ventilation, and reduce the risk of further Covid-19 outbreaks, the BBC reports. The Department for Education (DfE) issued a press release to confirm that 300,000 monitors will be supplied to all state education establishments from September.
It is not expected that previous Covid safety measures, such as wearing masks, bubbles, or social distancing will be continued with when schools open for the autumn term. The only precautionary measures will be the requirement for two Covid tests when pupils first re-enter the classroom, followed up by weekly home testing.
The portable C02 monitors can be moved to test airflow in areas of low ventilation and take readings, alerting staff to the need to open windows where necessary.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "Providing all schools with CO2 monitors will help them make sure they have the right balance of measures in place, minimising any potential disruption to education and allowing them to focus on world class lessons and catch up for the children who need it.”
The Guardian reports that the move was prompted by action from school staff unions, who were anxious that not enough precautions were being taken to minimise the risk of a Covid spike in September. The Labour shadow education secretary Kate Green also criticised the government for failing to plan ahead.
Representatives from seven unions wrote to the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, emphasising that swift action needed to be taken to have air-monitoring equipment in place before the autumn term began. Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the plans were ‘better late than never.’
Although the vaccine rollout in the UK has been efficient, there has already been a small but concerning rise in Covid cases, hospitalisations, and deaths, in the week before the majority of English and Welsh schools return to the classroom. Scottish children have already been back at their desks for a week or more.
Meanwhile, 30 primary schools in Bradford, West Yorkshire, are taking part in a pilot scheme to test the efficacy of air purifiers and ultraviolet lights in the classroom. The £1.75m trial will aim to reduce the spread of airborne infectious diseases, such as Covid-19, and also flu, colds, and allergies such as hay fever and asthma.
The trial is being carried out on behalf of the government by The Centre for Applied Education Research (CAER). The pilot scheme will start in September, and if it proves to be successful, the technology will be rolled out to schools across the country.
Ten Bradford schools will be equipped with high-efficiency particulate air filters, and 10 will get UV purifiers, while the final 10 will act as the control group, with no equipment. This is necessary to gather accurate evidence as to how effective the devices are. Scientists believe the results should be promising, and may allow schools to stay open even if cases do surge.
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