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Schools Reopen For Years 11-13 – Expert Reaction

Press Release – Science Media Centre

  From Tuesday, senior students in Alert Level 3 areas will be able to return to high school campuses to finish assessments and sit exams. Students will be required to wear masks on site and in school buses staff will also have to …

 

From Tuesday, senior students in Alert Level 3 areas will be able to return to high school campuses to finish assessments and sit exams.

Students will be required to wear masks on site and in school buses – staff will also have to wear masks, as well as showing a negative test before attending, and getting their first vaccine by 15 November.

The SMC asked experts about today’s announcement.

Associate Professor Arindam Basu, College of Education, Health & Human Development, University of Canterbury, comments:

“There is a risk of further spread of infections once the schools reopen. It was encouraging to note that wearing of masks was made mandatory for students and staff, and negative tests and vaccination will be in place, with emphasis on outdoor classes.

“One other thing would be important in this context: that of improving ventilation in the classrooms. School classrooms traditionally do not have the best ventilation facilities, and COVID-19 is an airborne infection. Besides that, accurate record keeping about attendances and strict control of truancy would be key steps here to minimise spread to and from schools.

“For COVID-19, we know there are four related features that determine the extent of spread, all things considered. First, poor ventilation and crowding, leading to potential superspreading events as COVID-19 spreads in a manner where most infections result from few, and most people would not pass to the others. COVID-19 is airborne, so ventilation is the key. Surface deep cleaning may help but attention to ventilation is important.

“Second, masking is absolutely necessary to minimise spread from source. So, if a student or staff is asymptomatic in the days of high viral load but un-manifest, not wearing a mask can trigger superspreading events.

“Third, regardless, vaccination with two doses is necessary to minimise severe infections. Vaccination is super-important although it does not guarantee that infection will not occur. As a matter of fact, with high rates of vaccination, expect more breakthrough infections but equally, such infection will likely to be mild. Hence, vaccination with two doses should be mandatory.

“Finally, limiting the number of people sharing a space is important. A two-metre distance is possibly a minimum distance.

“These said, the balancing act of allowing students face-to-face learning while managing the public health risk is important and the step is commendable. The key things to watch will be maintenance of high vaccination rate in the general population, masking, record keeping, ventilation in schools, and control of truancy, from the perspective of school-based education and epidemiology.”

No conflict of interest

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