This weekend, a Georgia Straight story about Vancouver Coastal Health stirred up a great deal of discussion on Twitter.
The article concerned the health authority's opposition to stand-alone high-efficiency particulate air filters (a.k.a. HEPA filters) in K-12 schools.
"Like most common respiratory viruses, COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplet transmission within a short range," Vancouver Coastal Health declares in a statement on its website. "Most commonly, students and staff who test positive for COVID-19 acquire the virus through close contact with a case at home or through their social networks."
The health authority's claim about how COVID-19 spreads elicited a critical response from Jose-Luis Jimenez, an expert in aerosols, atmospheric chemistry, and disease transmission at the University of Colorado Boulder.
"I have had to add @VCHhealthcare to the #COVIDHallofShame for some of the worst practices Worldwide in mitigation of COVID-19 transmission," Jimenez tweeted after the Georgia Straight article appeared.
Jimenez is one of the top 10 researchers in the world cited on aerosols.
He was one of six researchers who wrote a paper in the Lancet on April 15, 2021, entitled "Ten scientific reasons in support of airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2".
He also coauthored "Airborne transmission of respiratory viruses", which was published in Science on August 27, 2021. In addition, he's quoted extensively in a recent McGill Office for Science and Society article explaining why SARS-CoV-2 can linger in the air.
On his Twitter feed, Jimenez regularly calls out public-health officials for missing the mark on their understanding about how COVID-19 is transmitted. If governments don't understand how COVID-19 spreads—or are not up to speed on the latest research—he argues that this has implications for responses that might curb the spread.
In the past, Jimenez has slammed B.C. as one of the most "retrograde" jurisdictions in the world in this regard. This is notwithstanding the province's relatively high vaccination rate. B.C.'s per-capita fatalities from COVID-19 have, to date, been lower than other Canadian provinces with large populations.
However, the chart below shows that Canada's overall death rate from the disease is on the rise.
Jimenez isn't the only researcher who's criticized B.C.'s approach.
Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist and statistical geneticist at Queen Mary University of London, has claimed on her Twitter feed that B.C. "is even more in the dark ages on evidence on school transmissions and mitigations" than England, where she lives.
Gurdasani's comment was retweeted by Dr. David Fisman, a University of Toronto expert on the epidemiology of infectious diseases.
Jennifer Heighton, a Grade 5 teacher and cofounder of Safe Schools Coalition B.C., tweeted other critical reactions on her feed.
The Georgia Straight article was prompted by a two-line email to Vancouver Coastal Health's media-relations department.
"I'm going to be writing an article highlighting research that calls into question statements in this message from VCH," the Georgia Straight email stated. "If VCH can furnish me with any peer-reviewed research that supports the statements in this attachment, please feel free to forward the links to me."
This is the attachment that was emailed to the health authority:
The health authority responded with a long list of papers either published in peer-reviewed journals, preprints, or older studies that it said supported this statement.
The list did not include a preprint of a study relying on the COVID Airborne Risk Assessment tool developed at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). This study showed that one HEPA filter was as effective as two school windows being kept partly open all day during winter.