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Seniors Calling ~ The unsexy, but wholly important topic of ventilation

Seniors Calling ~ The unsexy, but wholly important topic of ventilation

If only ventilation in buildings was as easy as opening a window

NORTHERN, ONTARIO  ~~~~~~  September 13, 2021  (LSNEWS)  If you've ever watched the British comedy show, 'Benny Hill', you'll be familiar with one of the fan favourite skits from 1969, 'throw open wide the window dear'. If only ventilation in buildings - specifically long term care and retirement residences was as easy as opening a window. Canadian weather and northern geography aside, opening windows does not a ventilated building make.

The impact of COVID-19 on the residents of Canada's long term care homes has been earth shattering to say the least. The lives of tens of thousands of residents, their loved ones, and the staff who care for them have been changed forever.

There exists the real possibility that we will never be able to go back to the 'old days' when groups of volunteers, bands, choirs, crafters, worship groups and so on could enter long term care and retirement homes like we used to. I'm a member of a small (but quality) group of chorusters called 'The Hymn Singers'. We haven't been to local long-term care homes since January, 2020. We miss engaging through music with members of the long term care community ~ and we are certainly not alone.

The social needs of long term care residents that volunteers offer through a variety of activities has been seriously reined in. Activities Directors throughout the long term care system have not been able to supplement their work with the help of volunteers. Singing, at the present time, is on the list of 'Things that cannot happen in a long term care or retirement residence setting'. We now have a keen understanding of how our saliva droplets travel into the air and get circulated around a room and through a buildings' ventilation system. Throwing open a window is not going to solve that one.

The need to protect residents, especially in light of the role ventilation plays in protecting the well-being of residents in a building, has put ventilation at the top of the list for urgently needed infrastructure upgrades.

As the pandemic continues to challenge Ontario and the world, there remains an urgent need for sustained government action at all levels, to strengthen long-term care homes’ ability to prevent and contain Covid-19.

Simply put, ventilating a room or indoor space replaces the indoor air with outdoor air. Proper ventilation has an important role in reducing the transmission of COVID-19 indoors.  It is important to note that proper indoor ventilation alone is not likely to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2, particularly during close unprotected contact, or in the absence of other protective measures.

The understanding of SARS-CoV-2 transmission has evolved since the beginning of the pandemic. Infected individuals generate respiratory droplets and aerosols, which can be transmitted to others. Activities that are more likely to generate respiratory droplets and aerosols include: heavy breathing (e.g., during exercise), talking, singing, shouting, coughing, and sneezing. Without a mask, droplets produced during coughing can travel up to 12 feet, researchers have found. With a mask, this distance is reduced to just a few inches.

The video below, produced by Inside Science with the use of high-speed camera footage, demonstrates how the COVID-19 virus spreads through speech.

On Mar. 19, 2021, Public Health Ontario released 'FOCUS ON Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning' (HVAC) Systems in Buildings and COVID-19'.

Microorganisms survive and reproduce on dust, air, and water. HVAC systems can provide an ideal environment for them to grow. Reports have shown a link between poorly maintained or malfunctioning air conditioning systems and clusters of healthcare-associated infections, highlighting the importance of routine maintenance and monitoring the acceptable indoor air quality efficiently, particularly in acute care settings. Turbulence has been implicated as a factor for indoor survival and spreading of infectious agents, and this may be a mechanism by which portable fans and air conditioning units may contribute to the onset of health care-associated infections.

On April 1, 2021 the Government of Ontario updated regulations under the Long-Term Care Homes Act, 2007, which require designated cooling areas of all homes be served by air conditioning and be maintained at a comfortable level during specified periods and which will enhance the effectiveness of enforcement.

These new regulations came into effect May 15, 2021 and, according to the Ontario government, all 626 long-term care homes in Ontario are in compliance. In comparison, last year nearly 13 per cent of long-term care homes had no air conditioning at all.

On April 16, 2021, The Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario announced the investment of over $99.4 million in 95 projects to improve infrastructure in long-term care homes across Ontario.

Details were provided by the Honourable Catherine McKenna, (then) Federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities; the Honourable Deb Schulte, (then) Federal Minister of Seniors; the Honourable Laurie Scott, Ontario’s Minister of Infrastructure; and the Honourable Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, (then) Ontario’s Minister of Long-Term Care.

In a media release, their shared message was, communities across Canada are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic and need immediate assistance to ensure their public infrastructure is safe and reliable.

The funding announced in April was to make important upgrades and improvements to HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and sprinkler systems in long-term care homes across Ontario. All residents of long-term care homes deserve safe, modern spaces, and these investments will improve the safety of these homes for both residents and long-term care workers.

The Government of Canada announced that it is investing more than $79.5 million toward projects, with the Government of Ontario providing over $19.8 million through the COVID-19 Resilience Stream of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program. The COVID-19 Resilience Stream, implemented in response to the pandemic, allows the Government of Canada to invest up to 80% in projects that support provinces, and up to 100% in projects that support territories and Indigenous communities in their response to the pandemic.

 “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on Canada’s most vulnerable populations." stated The Honourable Catherine McKenna, (former) Federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities. "As we continue to battle this crisis, upgrading ventilation systems to ensure cleaner air in Ontario’s long-term care homes will be critical to the health and safety of residents and the people that care for them. The Government of Canada is investing 80 cents on every dollar invested in these important projects across the province. Canada’s infrastructure plan invests in thousands of projects, creates jobs across the country, and builds cleaner, more inclusive communities.”

To support Canadians and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, a COVID-19 Resilience Stream was added to the over $33-billion Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program to help fund pandemic-resilient infrastructure.

Through the COVID-19 Resilience Stream, over $3 billion was made available to provide provinces and territories with added flexibility to fund quick-start, short term projects

“As the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, investments in the health and wellness of Ontarians are more critical than ever. Supporting air quality and other infrastructure projects in long-term care homes helps to protect our communities, making them stronger, healthier and safer. That is why Ontario is making this investment to protect our health and our economy.” shared The Honourable Laurie Scott, Ontario’s Minister of Infrastructure at the time.

Here is a list of some of the northern Ontario projects that were approved for the announced infrastructure funding:

Atikokan General Hospital (AGH) - Township of Atikokan

 $1,488,560 (federal funding)  $372,140 (provincial funding)

Project to enhance safety in the Extended Care Wing by upgrading the sprinkler and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems. The HVAC portion of the project will improve air filtration to provide improved air quality and prevent and control infection

North Shore Health Network - Eldcap Unit. Town Of Blind River.

$187,520 (feds) $46,880 (province)

To upgrade the HVAC system to provide additional outdoor air, increase the number of air exchanges and provide negative air in areas as required to accommodate isolation of residents suspected of communicable disease. In addition, it includes the segregation of the floor space and access to areas to prevent the wandering of residents into zones under isolation.

Villa Minto Long Term Care Home. Town of Cochrane.

$1,572,000 (feds) $393,000 (province)

To improve air quality and ventilation throughout the home by installing 2-new AHUs to handle the Acute Care and Long-Term Care wings independently.

St. Joseph's General Hospital Elliot Lake - St. Joseph's Manor. City of Elliot Lake

$708,940  $177,235

To replace the HVAC systems to improve air quality, ventilation, heating and cooling, humidification of the facility and increase energy efficiency.

Espanola General Hospital - (operating as Espanola Nursing Home-LTC). Town of Espanola.

$3,165,474 (feds) $791,368 (province)

To upgrade the HVAC system in the isolation room, laundry room and bio-hazard room. In addition the project will renovate the space adjoining the nursing home to create an isolation room and build new space to allow current space to be repurposed for the isolation room, and provide a new area for storage (central supply) and increase the area for bio-hazardous waste.

Riverside Health Care Facilities Inc. Rainycrest. Town of Fort Frances.

$1,558,652 (feds) $389,663 (province)

To install a sprinkler system in a home that currently does not have one. In addition, the project will install a new energy efficient HVAC system to provide reliable heating, cooling, air filtration and ventilation throughout the home.

Santé Manitouwadge Health. Township of Manitouwadge.

$242,800 (feds)  $60,700 (province)

To replace 2 humidifiers and install new humidifiers into the existing AHUs. This project will improve air quality, filtration, and indoor air quality.

Riverside Health Care Facilities Inc.- Rainy River Health Centre. Town of Rainy River.

$1,182,052 (feds) $295,513 (province)

To upgrade the HVAC and AC system to provide reliable heating, cooling, filtration and ventilation throughout the facility. In addition, this project will remove and replace the existing thin-walled dry pipe system within the attic.

F.J. Davey Home. City of Sault Ste. Marie.

$127,600 (feds) $31,900 (province)

To install 2 new HVAC systems to ensure a reliable source of heat and cooling, improved air filtration, and optimize energy efficiency.

Hospital De Smooth Rock Falls Hospital - Smooth Rock Falls Hospital. Town of Smooth Rock Falls.

$580,506 (feds) $145,126 (province)

To replace all HVAC units to improve air quality throughout the home.

St. Joseph's Care Group - Hogarth Riverview Manor. City of Thunder Bay

$272,000 (feds) $68,000 (province)

To replace AC units, upgrade AHUs and upgrade programming which is essential to improving the air filtration and air quality of the home to maximize infection prevention.

The Corporation of the City of Thunder Bay - Pioneer Ridge. City of Thunder Bay

$186,400 (feds) $46,600 (province)

To upgrade current units in each residential room to add Make Up Air Unit cooling component to provide AC. This will increase resident safety, maximize infection prevention and control, improve air filtration, and maintain humidity levels within 40-60% range.

We must honour those lost to this terrible disease by resolving to work together to build a stronger system of care for our most vulnerable citizens – our seniors. Ventilation may not be a sexy topic, but it sure as hec is important as we continue to forge our way through the pandemic. In the meantime, a little humour never hurts ~ cue Benny Hill.

Northern Ontario 
Kenora, Rainy River, Thunder Bay, Marathon, Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury, North Bay, Ontario 

Previous Seniors Calling columns:
- Appearing Mondays
- Can be found in our 
Health Section 

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Shades of North

Lynne Brown 
Lynne Brown

Algoma writer and reporter. Has written for special editions Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal ~ freelance contributor to Anishinabek News, Lake Superior News. Former Content Director Superior Media. Lynne developed 'Seniors Calling' as a regular feature for various publications. In the 80’s, Lynne worked for AutoTrader Magazine in rural Southwestern Ont. Trudging through a farmers’ field for a picture of a 56 Dodge Custom Royal was considered a very good day.

Lynne is mom to Kyle and Benjamin and a former resident of rural Thunder Bay. 

Special interests include issues relating to rural life, seniors, travel, history, community development and indigenous peoples. @dlynnebrown on twitter 

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by Lake Superior News / Lake Superior Media.

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