Reducing the potential risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools

Advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) for school leaders engaging with children, parents, teachers and support staff to reduce even further the relatively low risk of Corona virus (COVID-19) transmission in schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Good hygiene and physical distancing can prevent infection. For most people, COVID-19 is experienced as a mild disease. The focus on reducing transmission is to ease the burden on our health system, rather than eliminate the spread.


Things to consider

Physical distancing (also called social distancing)

The more space between people, the harder it is for the virus to spread.


Message for parents

  • If your child is sick:

- Your child must not go to school.

- You must keep your child at home and away from others. 

  • Maintain physical distancing from other parents and teachers when attending school, including when dropping off and picking up your children.


Message for children

Tell your parent, guardian or teacher if you are feeling sick.


Message for teachers

Do not come to work if you are sick or in a vulnerable person category.


Message for all adults:

Teachers and parents alike maintain physical distancing between themselves and each other at school.


Practicing physical distancing and minimizing risk. These include:

  • Adapting activities that lead to mixing between classes and years, including reduced use of common areas and reduced after-school and inter-school activities.

  • Adding flexibility to the work day by staggering start and finish times, recesses, lunch breaks and other key transition times, when mixing may occur between classes and year-levels (where possible).

  • Avoiding close-proximity queuing and encouraging increased space between students, for example, by placing markings on the floor (where possible).

  • Encouraging students to maintain 1.5 meters distance when entering or leaving a classroom.

  • Cancelling school excursions, assemblies, sporting activities and other large gatherings.

  • Conducting lessons outdoors or in environments with enhanced ventilation (where possible).

  • Arranging classroom furniture to leave as much space as possible between students (where possible).

  • Maintaining smaller classes (where possible).

  • Suspending group work if the activity cannot be modified to avoid close physical proximity (1.5 meters) (where possible).

  • Ceasing public access to playgrounds and high touch play equipment.

  • Teachers monitoring students during non-class times to ensure they are maintaining 1.5 meters physical distance.

  • Teachers maintaining 1.5 meters physical distance from other adults in staff rooms.

  • Providing a mix of home- and campus-based education.

  • Student work being submitted electronically, where feasible.

  • Student work being handed to a teacher for feedback rather than feedback being provided immediately by the teacher in close proximity to the student.

  • Encouraging non-contact greetings.


Swimming pools should not operate.  Use of play equipment by children in a school setting is unlikely to appreciably increase the risk of exposure to the virus when compared with other activities undertaken in schools. Schools that continue to allow access to play equipment should consider the following sensible precautions:

  • Separating groups at play.

  • Cleaning play equipment between use by different groups (or at least daily).

  • Ensuring children wash their hands (or apply alcohol-based hand rubs) before and after using play equipment.

  • Excluding unwell children and staff.


Physical education may continue, but should take place outdoors or in large gymnasiums or covered areas where physical distancing can be maintained.


Risks to vulnerable populations in schools

Parents and carers of children and young people with complex medical needs are encouraged to seek medical advice from their health practitioner to support informed risk assessment and decision-making regarding the suitability of on-site education for their child.


Protecting vulnerable people within school workforce is critical to making schools a safe environment, including:

  • People aged 70 years and over

  • People aged 65 years and over with chronic medical conditions

  • All people with compromised immune systems, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 50 with chronic medical conditions.

They are at greater risk of more serious illness if they are infected with COVID-19.


There is limited evidence at this time regarding the risk in pregnant women. Teachers and staff who are vulnerable should take additional care to protect themselves and, where possible, arrange to work from home. This is also the case for those with caring responsibilities for vulnerable people.


Hygiene 

Good hygiene practices include:

  • Washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, or using hand sanitize, when entering school, and at regular intervals throughout the day

- Particularly before and after eating, and after going to the toilet

- For younger students, this may include having a regular hand washing schedule.

  • Covering coughs and sneezes with ones elbow or a tissue.

  • Placing used tissues straight into the bin.

  • Avoiding touching one’s eyes, nose and mouth.

  • Not sharing food or drink.

  • Close all communal water fountains/bubbles.

  • Where relevant, promoting strictest hygiene among st food preparation (canteen) staff and their close contacts.


Mobile phones are regularly touched and breathed on.  Use of mobile phones at school should be discouraged and if possible, restricted.  Where mobile phones must be used, they should be cleaned regularly.


Routine care

Standard precautions are advised when it is necessary to come into physical contact with someone for the purpose of providing routine care and/or assistance (for example, the use of gloves for nappy changing, toileting, feeding for those with a disability or complex needs).


Staff must always wash hands with soap and water, or use a hand sanitize before and after performing routine care and other close interactions with students in the classroom environment, and ensure environmental cleaning where relevant. Schools should make hand sanitize available at school entrances and in every classroom.


It is not recommended non-medical face coverings be used as a mitigation strategy against transmission of COVID-19 or other similar communicable diseases, as the use of these masks has the potential to create more harm than good.


Additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), for example medical face masks, is not required to provide regular care for children or young people who are well, unless such precautions are usually adopted in the routine care of an individual child or young person.


Good hygiene practices and environmental cleaning are more important for reducing risk.


Schools should not conduct wide-scale temperature checking of students as there is limited evidence to demonstrate the value of such checks.


First aid

Standard precautions should be adopted when providing first aid, for example gloves and an apron to use when dealing with blood or body fluids/substances. 


Always wash hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitize before and after providing first aid.


Management of suspected and confirmed cases

If a student or staff member is unwell, they should not attend school or should leave to go home. If they are a suspected COVID-19 case, they should self-isolate and seek testing in accordance with state or territory guidelines. Schools should not conduct COVID-19 testing themselves.


Staff, children or young people at school experiencing symptoms compatible with COVID-19 (fever, cough or sore throat) should be isolated in an appropriate space with suitable supervision, and collected by a parent/carer as soon as possible.


All children and young people with a health care plan should ensure this is up-to-date and that, if required, it provides additional advice on monitoring and identification of the unwell child in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.


It is important that schools also follow situational appropriate environmental cleaning. For example, if a child spreads droplets (by sneezing or coughing), clean surfaces with disinfectant wipes immediately.


Schools and their communities will continue to be supported by state public health units in the event of an outbreak in their immediate or nearby areas. This will include detailed information and specific advice on additional measures to take beyond this guidance.


Environmental cleaning

To reduce the spread of viruses or germs in schools through environmental cleaning:

  • Clean and disinfect frequently used high-touch surfaces such as bench-tops, desks, doorknobs, taps, and hand rails at regular intervals throughout the day with a detergent solution or detergent/disinfectant wipes.

  • Clean and disinfect frequently used objects such as computers, photocopiers and sports equipment with detergent solution or detergent/disinfectant wipes.

  • In those jurisdictions where students are allowed to have mobile phones, schools should restrict access to mobile phones during the school day. Schools and jurisdictions can have the flexibility to make their own procedures around how to do this.

  • Clean and disinfect any play equipment that has not been closed at the end of each recess and the end of the day.

  • Increase the amount of fresh air available indoors by opening windows or adjusting air conditioning.

  • Provide bins in every classroom for used tissues, and empty them regularly throughout the day.

  • Clean toilets after each recess and at the end of the day.


MORE INFORMATION:

For the latest advice, information, copy and resources, go to https://www.health.gov.au/news

Feel free to contact us at office@gordondu-associates.com.au or (08) 9345 0499.

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