NSW Health Advice Regarding School Closures

NSW Health has advised for schools to remain open in light of the outbreak of Coronavirus/COVID-19; as per the outcomes of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee meeting on Sunday 15th March 2020.

In summary, your children are safer at school.

The topic of school closure and attendance has been widely discussed. There are specific reasons why experts have made this recommendation.

In summary, the reasons are as follows:

  1. Household transmission has been noted as the primary vehicle for COVID-19 to spread and observed that children tended to be infected from adults, not other children. Children who have become infected around the world are much more likely to have been infected by the adults in their own household than by their peers at school. That is to say, the evidence so far, nationally and internationally, is that they are safer at school than they are at home. 
  2. The potential reduction in community transmission from school closures may be offset by the care arrangements that are in place for children who are not at school. Children may require care from vulnerable grandparents (placing them at risk of infection) or may continue to associate (and transmit infection) outside of school settings and in an uncontrolled environment. Closures would place children at greater exposure to the wider community, hence increasing their risk of transmission. 
  3. For pre-emptive school closures to be effective, prolonged closure is required and it would be unclear when they could be re-opened. If there were still a large pool of susceptible students when schools are re-opened, there would be likely to be re-emergence of transmission in the community. 
  4. At this stage, the spread of COVID-19 in the community is at quite low levels. It may be many months before the level of community infection is again as low as it is at the moment. 
  5. A decision to close or cease any operations now, on the current level of community transmission may, therefore, see schools closed for many months. 
  6. Closing schools will have an adverse effect on the fight against COVID-19. Requiring adults to withdraw from the health workforce in order to care for them.

The unanimous opinion of the AHPCC; a body of Chief Medical Officers for each State and the Commonwealth, is that schools should not close at this time. It is important to note that this is not a political body; these are the medical professionals charged with leading our country through all matters of public health. Their advice is informed by the leading epidemiologists of the nation. 

The pandemic we face is likely to last for months. To close schools, potentially for months to come, will have adverse effects on children and society as a whole.

Schools should implement a range of other strategies to reduce transmission. Including the promotion of personal hygiene measures; handwashing, reducing face contact, cough etiquette. As well as physical distancing, reducing mass gatherings, and reducing the mixing of students.

Schools should also reinforce existing policies to exclude students and staff who are unwell. As well as enforce current policies requiring quarantine for those who have recently travelled overseas. 

The article in full can be found at: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/diseases/Pages/covid-19-schools.aspx

Note: The above is valid at the time of writing, as at 17/03/2020 and is subject to change. We will endeavour to keep you informed as future developments unfold.

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