U of T updates its HVAC strategy for the first time in over a year – The Varsity

As the U of T prepares for a especially in person fall semester, university management assured students that it had undertaken various improvements to its ventilation systems.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) warns that due to the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 by droplets and aerosols, there is additional risk of transmission in enclosed and indoor spaces without physical distancing.

So, before a gradual return to in-person activities in the fall of 2020, the university conducted a full review air circulation and ventilation systems in its buildings. At that time, the university announced that, in accordance with PHAC recommendations, it had upgraded its Minimum Efficiency Ratio Value (MERV) ventilation filters from MERV-8 to MERV-13 – which are capable of capturing smaller particles, including viruses.

On August 11, the university updated its COVID-19 heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. website for the first time since July 21, 2021. The website includes guidance on preventive measures against COVID-19 and the university’s ventilation measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

As part of its HVAC strategy, the university says it will conduct regular reviews of its ventilation systems, replace all filters in the system with MERV-13 filters, and implement air purging measures every mornings.

Additionally, the website offers a link to the list of buildings spread over the three campuses indicating the type of filtration system currently installed in each building. According to this list, 23 buildings of the UTSG do not have central mechanical ventilation.

In the latest update to the HVAC policy page, the university wrote that additional high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filters will be added to classrooms that currently cannot meet the six-equivalent ACH goal. MERV-13 filters will continue to be the standard in classrooms that achieve this goal.

While the administration cites its “industry-leading ventilation strategy” in its announcement of a fall semester with mostly in-person activities, student unions criticized the university’s lack of transparency and expressed concerns about the university’s current CVC strategy.

Of the University

In a written statement to the university On July 18, Ron Saporta — U of T’s Director of Operations, Property Services and Sustainability — provided updates on the status of U of T’s HVAC strategy.

“For the safety of students, staff, faculty, and visitors, the University continues to purge air before and after occupancy from all central ventilation systems on all three campuses,” Saporta wrote.

He added that currently the university performs “at least six air changes per hour [(ACH)]in each class.

Saporta reiterated that the university has replaced all air filtration systems “with upgraded MERV-13 filters or the highest filter compatible with existing infrastructure.”

Saporta wrote that students can find updated information about the U of T’s HVAC strategy at the HVAC Strategy page.

The concerns of student unions

In a written statement to the universityUniversity of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) President Omar Gharbiyeh discussed the union’s concerns about long delays in updating information on the university’s HVAC strategy.

Gharbiyeh noted that UTSU asked the university to give students more freedom to choose the mode of learning in which they would feel most comfortable. For example, he listed options for students to physically distance themselves in class, attend classes virtually, and wear masks during in-person classes.

He wrote that UTSU will continue to advocate for asynchronous, hybrid, or online learning options as a healthy balance between safety, accessibility, and quality of learning.

In an email to the universityMaëlis Barre, president of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), discussed the union’s ongoing advocacy for the university’s transparency on issues concerning student safety.

She referred to UTMSU and the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) safe return campaign, launched in the winter of 2022. Unions have demanded that the university ensure a safe return to face-to-face learning; they asked the university to replace the MERV filters currently installed with HEPA filters.

In an email to the university, SCSU President Michael Sobowale also stressed the need for increased housing this fall.

Sobowale said SCSU has advocated for hybrid learning options, mask stations at the entrance to classrooms and increased access to on-campus rapid testing.

“In the past [sic] meetings, we raised our concerns about improving the HVAC system, in which we asked the university to upgrade MERV filters to HEPA filters – which health officials say are best for trap airborne viruses,” Sobowale wrote.

Sobowale continued: “[In response, the university claimed that] their current system is better than the minimum standard and better than systems used at other post-secondary institutions.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HEPA filters are 99.97% effective at removing COVID-19 particles from the air. By comparison, MERV filters are on average 85% efficient at removing COVID-19 particles from the air.

Norma A. Roth