Educate to ventilate and ventilate to educate! One Somerset man’s mission to ensure there’s clean air in classrooms.

Montacute School: the first and possibly only school in Somerset to have air filters in every classroom

It’s #WorldVentil8Day, raising awareness of the critical role clean air plays in preventing the spread of disease and damage to health from pollution. We’ve known for a long time now that Covid is an airborne virus, yet it appears the government don’t want to encourage mask-wearing or insist on air filtration in indoor spaces because that means admitting that the pandemic is far from over. They want us to believe it’s done and dusted, yesterday’s story.

But Covid is very still with us and children, despite all the conspiracy theorists and covid-deniers’ fairy tales about immunity, do get it. Some end up in hospital. Some end up with Long Covid. Some may already have sustained long term damage of which parents and doctors are as yet unaware. And just take a look at the numbers on child hospital admissions. Covid has not gone away.

For parents, teachers and campaigners up and down the country, enough is enough. In our own region, one campaigner stands out because he is taking practical action to mitigate Covid’s impact in the classroom by introducing effective, DIY clean air filters into his local schools.

I spoke to South Somerset District Councillor Oliver Patrick to find out more about the campaign and how he got involved in the first place.

“There are four factors which prompted me to get out there and do something. First of all, I was still teaching when the first wave of Covid hit and I was the school’s health and safety rep. We followed the guidance, such as it was, but I was frustrated by the lack of leadership from central government. Schools are not public health bodies. Risk mitigation needs to come from the top. It didn’t.

“Then I was contacted by the Saville family. Emily caught Covid back in September 2021. She was extremely ill, is still very ill and now registered disabled. Meeting her and her family was a sobering experience – a real wake-up call. It’s estimated that there are at least 100,000 children across the UK whose lives are severely impacted by Long Covid…and we still don’t know the extent of the long term damage to children’s organs, including the brain and heart, damage which may be hidden for now. Why are we risking their long term health and prospects by pretending Covid is over?”

Oliver continued:

“Thirdly, I have still got Covid symptoms myself , seven months after I caught the virus. I am lucky. It has not had a major impact on my health, but it’s very much there.

Finally, I am now on the district council and in a position to ask questions and get answers. I sit on the children’s services scrutiny committee and one of my first questions to officers was about how many children in Somerset have been vaccinated. At the primary school level, it is fewer than one in ten. Vaccination of children has been abandoned by government so the vast majority are and will remain unvaccinated.

So, when government fails its people, we have no choice but to go down the DIY route.

This is where the beauty of Twitter – pre-Musk Twitter – really revealed itself. A guy called Pete contacted me and offered to send me a free DIY air filtration kit – the now famous Corsi-Rosenthal box – on the condition that I explained and filmed how I built it and how it worked and shared that info on social media.

Which I did. With pleasure.

The kits cost about £170 each – depends a bit on the dollar exchange rate – and it would cost about £500 to 750k to put one in every classroom. But what price children’s health? What price do you put on preventative measures which could cut down on the costs of staff absences, healthcare provision for sufferers, the impact of repeated Covid infections?”

[Especially now there is evidence that repeated Covid infections far from building our immunity actively reduces it. Ed]

“This is grassroots activism, right? I launched a GoFundMe to buy more kits. I had a fantastic donation from the National Education Union’s Somerset branch, who funded ten kits. We’ve been able to equip my local school out with filters in every classroom and the library.”

So will Somerset roll this out across all schools?

“Err, no. Here, I am totally stymied. It’s all about budget cuts, unsurprisingly. Somerset has had its funding cut by 60 per cent over the last ten years. Devon, I gather, is even worse with 75 per cent of their funding gone. Councils can barely finance statutory services, so, sadly and, ultimately short-sightedly, there is no money for measures to keep our kids safe. As a result, I am afraid I can only focus on my local schools.

But the other shocking thing is that not every school even wants the filters. I have some sympathy with those who say their priority is helping the growing number of kids who arrive at school cold and hungry (that’s a whole other scandal). Some want them but don’t want any publicity. “

I posed a question: “Is saying they’re needed like admitting they should have been there in classrooms ages ago? One can imagine the potential for lawsuits further down the track…”

“That’s a possibility. Some will argue that they have complied with government guidance and mitigated risk by opening windows. They may already be ventilating effectively and that’s fair enough, but there’s a bigger conversation to be had about air quality. “

I mentioned a conversation I had had with a Labour MP in Liverpool, desperate about the plight of kids in a school right on a busy main road where the open window strategy just ended up with them breathing in heavily-polluted air. With no money for HEPA filters that was their only option.

“Yes. That’s the issue. Clean air is critical to children’s health and to their brain development and cognitive function and the stats on air quality in our schools are not good…not just for CO2 but for particulates, as well. The vast majority have been found to exceed safe levels. “

It’s why the Ella’s Law clean air bill is so important, I comment.

“Agreed. It should be a basic human right.” Oliver concludes.

So what now? What can be done to help? Seems to me that we could do with a wealthy philanthropist stepping into the breach to fund filter. Are you out there? Can you help?

You can support Oliver’s campaign here.