Send or keep home? Parents need clarity from experts
Many parents are conflicted between following advice to keep their children in school while anti-virus measures unfold elsewhere. We asked education and science experts for clarity.
Q: Should schools be closed to reduce the spread of the coronavirus?
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) does not support closure given a lack of evidence of significant disease in children and lack of reported major disease spreading in schools.
There are significant opportunities to improve social distancing within schools and further advice will be provided to the sector.
School closures are likely to be more effective when approaching the peak of the epidemic and enforced for a shorter period. An option must be provided for children of essential service providers.
Q When will sanitisers, soap and other cleaning and hygiene materials be distributed to SA schools?
The first bulk orders were received on Friday, with more coming in throughout this week.
Delivery was dispatched to 13 high-need sites on Monday.
Q What about temperature screening devices?
These are high-demand items prioritised for health settings. The Department for Education is exploring options to source these items should health authorities recommend temperature checks.
Q NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is encouraging parents to keep students at home. What about SA?
The public health advice is particularly concerned about the risk of students gathering in public places and potentially being supervised by elderly relatives. Parents who wish to keep children home have a responsibility to provide adequate supervision.
Parents will receive resources to enable learning to take place at home. It will be a long-term commitment, lasting months not weeks.
Q What is the estimate of absentee rates at schools?
Based on the data received from 398 schools to date, 231 had a student absence rate of 20 per cent or higher on Friday, March 20.
Q What should parents do if they are anxious?
Anxiety is to be expected given the unprecedented situation. The Education Department assures families it is acting on the best advice of public health officials.
Q What is the status in public schools about IT capability?
The Education Department is launching an online resource directly to operate alongside hard copy learning materials. This will be shared with site leaders first before then going live to the public later this week.
Q Many families do not have good IT at home or may have difficult living arrangements. How will they be supported?
Schools understand their families' situations very well. Schools need to ensure that in the event of a closure, students and parents have access to at least two weeks of learning to be continued off-site.
Q What measures are being taken to ensure children attending school don't have a fever?
Parents must keep children at home if they are experiencing any symptoms such as fever and cough.
Q What is being done to protect teachers who are at higher risk of serious disease?
The Education Department want to keep its people safe. Options are available including flexible working arrangements and leave provisions. These are managed on a case-by-case basis.
Q Last week, Unley High School reopened despite a student testing positive. Why was the school not closed?
The student did not fit criteria for closure. Under national guidelines, a person is infectious in a 24-hour period before showing symptoms. In that period, anyone else in a confined space for at least two hours with that person is classified as a close contact. The Unley student had been on a bus trip with other students "on the cusp" of the 24 hours and the bus trip was only about 45-50 minutes.
Q Australia's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, said there's no evidence children are significant spreaders of coronavirus. Is that right?
That is the official advice from a consensus of public health officers nationwide. However, Garvan Institute of Medical Research Professor Stuart Tangye said: "There are likely to be many asymptomatic (ie. apparently healthy) young people in the community who are infected … they are probably not self-isolating."
Q If children do not spread the disease COVID-19, is it OK for them to be with grandparents?
University of Queensland Professor Ian Henderson said: "Older citizens and those with underlying comorbidities need to be protected from exposure."
Q Why are children banned from aged care facilities?
Children aged 16 years or less are permitted to visit only by exception, as they generally fail to comply with hygiene measures. Exemptions can include where the resident is in palliative care.
Q There seems to be conflicting health advice in different states. Why is this?
The Australian Science Media Centre says "the trouble is the evidence is open to interpretation".
Q Can we see the evidence?
No. The advice has not been made public. In contrast the UK Government has published their specific advice.
Q What are the other reasons schools are being kept open?
Closure poses a major risk to children's education, mental health and wellbeing.
The impact on the critical workforce and potential exposure of elderly relatives caring for children is also of significance. About 15 per cent of the total workforce and 30 per cent of the healthcare workforce may need to take time off work to care for children.
Q Should babies, toddlers and preschool children be kept home?
The COVID-19 impact on otherwise healthy children has been minimal to date.
Originally published as Send or keep home? Parents need clarity from experts