COVID-19: Why schools and early learning services remain open

There is a lot of discussion about school closures in the media with many varying opinions being expressed and some misinformation being deliberately spread. This article sets out the current situation around school closures in New Zealand.

Listen to Health Minister David Clark speak to Radio New Zealand here(external link). He talks about schools at 4 minutes into the audio clip.

Why aren’t all schools being closed right now?

While we are seeing mass school shutdowns elsewhere in the world, in New Zealand we don’t yet have community transmission of COVID-19 – so there isn’t currently a public health reason to do so here.

Pre-emptive school closures may have unintended consequences – for example, children may need to be cared for by vulnerable grandparents, or they may be put in other social settings that could make things worse.

Why would a school need to close?

Medical Officers of Health have the authority to close a school. They will only do so if there is a medical reason for this or after a confirmed case in the school. In that instance, they will need to close it for a short period of time while they determine if there is any risk to others.

At the time of writing, we have already seen one temporary closure following direction from a Medical Officer of Health. This was following confirmation that one student had been tested positive for COVID-19 at Logan Park High School in Dunedin. That student is self-isolating and all their close contacts (150 students and staff) have been tested for the virus.

It has been announced that all of those tests have come back negative. However, as a precaution only, those 150 students and staff will remain away from the school for a period of 14 days from when they last had contact with the student confirmed with the virus.

When would we see mass school shutdowns?

The Ministry is working with other government agencies to align our planning for a range of possible scenarios relating to schools and early learning services.

We are planning for the possibility of more temporary closures. Our decisions are based on evidence and very robust health advice. An overview of our decision tool is available here for your information [DOCX, 21 KB].

Depending on the scenario, there are plans in place which could include school closures for longer periods of time. Most of the scenarios at these higher risk levels relate to community transmission. Community transmission is when a confirmed case had no known contact with another confirmed case, and hasn’t recently arrived from overseas. As stated above, there is currently no community transmission in New Zealand.

Finally, the World Health Organisation has confirmed that the risk to children remains low and parents should continue to send their kids to schools and early learning centres.

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