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Classrooms quiet as pupils stay home

Schools have seen an increase in absences. PHOTO/STOCK.ADOBE.COM

Winter virus ramps up

As Wairarapa experiences a surge in respiratory syncytial virus [RSV], schools and early learning centres have been hit by an increase in sick days.

The owner of one Masterton early learning centre said many children had stayed at home during the last week.

“It’s been probably one of the biggest bouts of coughs and colds we’ve had in recent memory.”

The owner said the illnesses had also seemed to last a long time.

The centre had not received confirmation on whether any children had contracted RSV.

The virus was a frequent cause of the common cold that often occurred in winter.

“We have had a lot of children away in the last week or so with coughs and colds, but mostly everybody’s back on deck now… We’re pretty lucky.”

On Friday, the Early Childhood Council called for more support for early learning centres coping with the RSV outbreak.

“We’re told this outbreak is business as usual – it doesn’t feel that way to us,” chief executive officer Peter Reynolds said.

“A growing proportion of our members tells us there’s a huge spike in absences, creating those gaps for unwell kids that then creates additional pressures for centres. Hard on the heels of covid-19, centres deserve certainty that if this continues or gets worse, the ministry will have their back.”

Reynolds said the Ministry of Education [MoE] had two rules for funding aid that did not match the demands of the outbreak.

The Three-Week Rule for Continuous Absence provided centres with funding for all sessions a child was enrolled in but was absent from within a three-week period.

The Frequent Absence Rule provided funding for centres where a child had attended less than half of the sessions they were enrolled to attend, provided the centres reconfirmed the child’s enrolment agreement after two months of repeated absences.

Reynolds described these options as “a square peg in a round hole for the nature of this outbreak”.

Douglas Park School principal Gareth Sinton said he had noticed an increase in children taking days off school.

Sinton said that 20 to 30 children might be absent across the school of about 350 pupils on a typical winter day.

“We’ve been hitting more like 50 to 60 off.”

Last week, there had been 58 pupilts away on Monday, 44 on Tuesday, 68 on Wednesday, and 74 on Thursday.

On the worst-affected day, there were about 80 children off school. However, Sinton said that this was a half-day, and children would have been at home by lunchtime anyway.

He said the increase in sick days had coincided with the regional return to Alert Level 2 two weeks ago, with government messaging emphasising that sick kids should stay at home.

“It all came at the same time. Kids are away because they are crook, and parents are also keeping them away to be cautious… If someone is not well, they shouldn’t come in. I think we’ve been learning from covid-19, and parents have been fantastic with that.”

Further south, Featherston School principal Gina Smith said her school had been spared the worst of the cold season.

“It’s been pretty much the same – not anything over the top.”

An average of four or five pupils had been off sick each day, from a total school roll of about 130 pupils.

“We’ve been really lucky – I think because it’s been so mild.”

Wairarapa Hospital spokeswoman Anna Cardno said RSV could affect people of all ages, but babies and children were most at risk.

Due to the surge in cases, Wairarapa Hospital has asked parents not to bring babies and children to visit patients.

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