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Omitting indoor air quality from COVID-19 guidance for shelters and long-term care homes is a grave mistake

From The Conversation

Forty per cent of COVID-19 deaths in Ontario have taken place in long-term care homes. Chronic and in some cases devastating outbreaks have also been reported in sheltersdetention centres and group homes for adults with disabilities. Residents and workers have died, and thousands more have been infected.

In these group facilities, termed “congregate settings” in Ontario, people eat together, and bedrooms and bathrooms are often shared. Because of this, they are very high-risk for acquiring airborne diseases.

It is imperative that congregate settings receive the best, most rigorous guidance available from Public Health Ontario (PHO). But that is not what is happening. A key aspect of infection prevention and control — indoor air quality — has been omitted from PHO’s public, written COVID-19 guidance specifically designed for these types of facilities.

Sub-standard guidance for congregate settings

Our team, which includes researchers with expertise in indoor air quality, engineering, epidemiology, public health and knowledge translation, conducted a detailed study of the public, written guidance PHO has produced specifically for institutions such as long-term care homes, shelters, group homes and correctional facilities. (The study is shared here as a pre-print, and has been submitted to a journal for peer review.)

We found no references to ventilation, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems, portable air filters, bathroom exhaust fans or even opening windows. This includes PHO’s COVID-19 checklists for long-term care homes and congregate settings, which target those who are responsible for facility health and safety.

While our formal study concluded at the end of October 2021, we’ve continued to explore guidance on PHO’s website. Even as outbreaks continue in facilities such as long-term care homes and shelters, nothing much has changed, almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic.

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