Covid spread among children more likely at home than at school
School classrooms may not be breeding ground for Covid-19, with just 4% of close contacts in class testing positive, a new study suggests.
As Omicron surges into schools, with around a third of active cases being children and young people under the age of 20, school leaders worry about a possible shortage of teachers when the peak leaves sick or isolated staff.
A Canterbury Secondary Schools official believes that as more cases emerge in schools, parents will start deciding to keep their children at home.
But Jin Russell, a community and development pediatrician from Auckland, says the mitigating factors employed by schools are effective as long as families play their part.
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In Omicron’s phase two, New Zealand schools are one of the few public places where contract-seeking measures are effective, Russell said.
“We put a lot of burden on the schools, and the principals are under the pump.
“It is not at all unexpected that we see a large number increasing [in schools] as we head towards the peak of the Omicron wave.
Transmission of Covid-19 in schools had been kept low when mitigating factors like ventilation, masks and as much outdoor activity as possible were implemented.
A National Center for Immunization Research and Monitoring Study of children infected with Covid in New South Wales (NSW) between October 18 and December 17 – including during the first spread of Omicron – has produced “reassuring data” which suggests that the majority of cases in children were contracted at home, she said.
There is a real possibility that Omicron will spread among the hundreds of unvaccinated protesters in Parliament. Capital & Coast DHB chief medical officer John Tait said Wellington Hospital had plans in place.
For Delta, close contact with school was 2.4% likely to become positive.
But for Omicron, that went down to 3.7%. The equivalent of one student in a class of 30, Russell said.
Seven schools experienced large outbreaks (more than 10 cases) during this time. Extracurricular activities such as birthday parties, sleepovers, gatherings of family and friends, and carpooling have contributed to transmission among children in these schools.
Kaiapoi High School has confirmed at least two positive cases among its school population, but principal Bruce Kearney said the cases stemmed from weekend events “outside the school calendar” – one of which was Saturday night.
The study, published on February 18, found that staff accounted for a greater proportion of cases after the introduction of Omicron, “highlighting the need for a booster vaccination in this group”.
As it was then, all adults had to be fully vaccinated by November 1, teenagers over the age of 12 were encouraged to get vaccinated, and mask-wearing was mandatory for all adults and high school students and encouraged. for primary school students.
Russell said to limit disruption to New Zealand schools and children’s learning, school communities must observe public health measures outside of school as best they can.
“As much as possible, keep your activities outdoors.”
While schools could continue to improve their Covid-19 prevention measures, “we need the community to do everything possible to mitigate outside of schools.”
The risks obviously increased as more and more children showed up at school while contagious.
“What we need is families trying to slow the spread themselves.”
In early childhood settings, the risks were higher because it was harder to distance, mask children and staff, and without children being eligible for the vaccine, she said.
The good news was that in young children, Covid-19 often caused a cold and about a third had no symptoms.
Children under 2 years of age, however, had an increased risk of needing hospital treatment, but still lower RSV rates.
“The Ministry of Education, in my opinion, has a very good ventilation strategy in place in schools, but it is up to the school management to implement the strategy.”
She said HEPA air filters should arrive in schools in time for winter.
“Schools should think now about their needs in the winter when they will need to close the windows more.
Canterbury West Coast Secondary Principals’ Association president Phil Holstein had heard that once a positive case was identified at a school, some parents opted to keep children at home.
“Currently attendance is good. [at his school, Burnside High School]but when a case is identified, there can be a reaction.
“Hopefully there won’t be because we still have good safeguards in place.”
Keeping face-to-face learning as long as possible was the best outcome for everyone, he said.
Canterbury Primary Principals’ Association chairman Sandy Hastings said schools had strong protocols in place to deal with cases and were taking a ‘cautious’ approach, immediately sending home any pupils with potential Covid symptoms .
“We’re all taking it one day at a time, but the goal is to stay open…as much as possible,” she said.
Some systems in place in schools included dividing the school into bubbles to ensure distance between groups of students, creating adequate ventilation in school buildings and enforcing mask-wearing.
When Russell and nine other University of Auckland colleagues published a report in January on how to keep schools open safelyshe said from a population, health or political perspective, closing schools was not a sustainable strategy in an era of mass vaccination.
Schools may sometimes need to close, for example, when a significant number of teachers are feeling unwell or in localized confinement.
But even when schools had to suspend indoor learning, they recommended outdoor classes, including physical activities and games, as well as learning in small groups.
Maori General Paediatrician and Honorary Lecturer Danny de Lore said schools were an essential service and there was ample evidence that absence from school was harmful for less well-off children.
“We are concerned that there is a higher proportion of Maori school children in the group who bear the burden of school closures.”