Wearing face masks, frequent handwashing, and social distancing have become habits among Filipinos, and these minimum health protocols remain in place as schools in the country reopen. Authorities and public health experts continue to recommend these mitigation measures but another key approach against COVID-19 that needs instilling is adequate and appropriate ventilation in schools.
As our understanding of the virus improved, evidence for airborne transmission was confirmed and the World Health Organization acknowledged the airborne spread of COVID-19. With this, airborne precautions were proven necessary.
The Department of Education, through Undersecretary Kris Ablan, is in talks with Aral Pilipinas for the use of an evidence-based assessment tool to help teachers and school administrators determine if a classroom setting is well-ventilated, and consequently, its level of risk for COVID-19 transmission, and the corresponding interventions needed. This tool is called the Safe Schools Calculator.
Aral Pilipinas is a coalition that works with the government and civil society towards the safe return to schools of all Filipino learners amid the pandemic and other disruptions. Together with Engineer Joshua Agar from the University of the Philippines Institute of Civil Engineering, Aral Pilipinas co-developed the Safe Schools Calculator for the Department of Education.
With a plug and play function, this calculator is easy to navigate because all the user has to do is choose buttons to indicate the dimensions of the classroom, available ventilation such as electric fans and windows, number of occupants, and duration of stay in a classroom. Once these have been inputted, the tool will assess which of these parameters will need to be adjusted to meet the 1000 parts per million (ppm) threshold for CO2 levels set by the government.
By eliminating guesswork for proper classroom ventilation, the tool offers guidance and reassurance to teachers, students and their parents, as well as their communities. This is precisely why the local government of San Juan is also considering the use of the Safe Schools Calculator, which could significantly contribute to their larger COVID-19 response plan.
Last year, the local government of San Juan was recognized by the Galing Pook Foundation. Their initiatives, collectively referred to as Kaagapay, Lingkod at Gabay sa Pandemya or KALINGAP for short, won them a spot in the Top 10 Outstanding Local Governance Programs.
“Safety and learning continuity should go hand-in-hand. With 28 million learners returning to school, it’s imperative that we reduce the risk of transmission indoors to keep our learners, teachers, and their families safe,” said Reg Sibal, the lead convenor of Aral Pilipinas. “There’s no better time than the present to foster a learning environment free from disease and harm, and we’re optimistic that if the Safe Schools Calculator is institutionalized, we can make this come to life.”