NSW schools to begin four-week COVID-19 ‘blitz’ as term 3 begins

NSW public schools will begin a “four week blitz” to stem the spread of COVID-19 when students return from holidays on Tuesday, with more than 9 million rapid antigen test kits to be distributed.

The NSW Education Department has stopped short of mandating masks, but staff and students will be strongly encouraged to wear them and additional supplies made available to schools.

COVID measures will be scaled up at NSW schools when students return on Tuesday. Credit:Louie Douvis

Individual schools facing high case numbers will be directed to adopt additional “circuit breaker” measures, including stopping large indoor gatherings, excursions and limiting visitors.

The department said students at affected schools could also be directed to work from home for short periods if required.

Students at all schools will be sent home with RAT kits, with more than 9 million to be distributed during the first three weeks of term 3 as part of what the department called a “four-week blitz”. Cleaners at all public schools will increase their day cleaning while students and staff are on-site, focusing on high-touch areas.

The Education Department said significant improvements were continuing over winter to improve air quality and ventilation in schools.

“The settings are similar to last term, but we are being extra vigilant to get the term off to the best start – supporting our staff and students with extra supplies of rapid antigen tests and masks and encouraging them to stay at home if unwell,” NSW Education secretary Georgina Harrisson said.

The new measures come as most unvaccinated teachers and staff, except those working with high-risk students, were allowed to return to work from Monday.

A number of private schools are also strongly encouraging the use of masks, with at least one continuing to enforce a mandate.

Waverley College principal Graham Leddie said his school would continue to ensure hand sanitiser was available, air purifiers used where needed, and windows and doors were kept open.

“We will encourage all our students and staff to wear masks, especially considering how many people have travelled overseas these school holidays, but they will not be made compulsory,” he said.

“The school will be strongly recommending that all staff and students wear a mask whilst indoors.”

Barker College head Phillip Heath said staff would be asked to undertake a RAT before attending school each Monday in the first few weeks of Term 3.

“The school will be strongly recommending that all staff and students wear a mask whilst indoors on campus and will be advised to not attend school if they are displaying any symptoms,” he said.

St Andrews Cathedral School in Sydney’s CBD will continue to enforce an indoor mask mandate for staff and students in years 7 to 12. Students from kindergarten to year 6 will be encouraged to wear masks.

Last week, NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said there had been a 30 per cent increase in sick days taken by teachers and staff this year, which was directly related to COVID and flu.

“We will certainly be making sure that there are additional masks available in our school communities and looking at additional distribution of rapid antigen tests as well,” she said.

“We’re in winter, and we know that term three will probably have some bumps along the way. We are absolutely feeling the pressure of COVID and flu in our schools.”

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