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Schools struggle to deliver quick covid message

Wairarapa College reopened for onsite learning on Monday after closing last week due to covid-19 cases. PHOTOS/FILE

Story by Tom Taylor

Wairarapa schools have raised concerns about the time taken to give contact tracing information to their communities.

As of Monday, the Ministry of Education [MoE] was supporting 50 schools and early learning centres in the Greater Wellington Region with covid-19 case management.

The institutions included 10 early learning centres, 20 primary schools, two intermediate schools, and 18 secondary schools.

The Greater Wellington region was home to about 283 schools.

Wairarapa College principal Matt White said information on covid cases from the Ministry of Health delayed the school’s communication with its community.

Wairarapa College principal Matt White said he was concerned by the number of schools the regional contacts needed to support.

White said he received notification about positive cases at his school on Wednesday last week.

“Information from the Ministry of Health [MoH] has delayed the ability of the school to contact trace and provide information to our community,” he said.

“This is frustrating and a concern as we are prioritising maintaining learning and well-being in 2022.”

Wairarapa College reopened to most students on Monday after moving to online learning on Thursday and Friday last week.

Masterton’s Chanel College also closed last week due to a “small number of cases”.

Principal Myra Coley said there did not appear to be any new cases connected to the school, which reopened yesterday as normal.

Coley said the school’s ability to inform its community about close contacts was delayed by a lag in information about the infectious dates of its positive cases.

“We were organised and the family of the positive cases communicated all information they had, which helped us to make the decisions we did about online learning,” Coley said.

“The delay seems to have been between the MoH and the MoE.”

MoE southern leader Nancy Bell said the ministry had created a regional covid response team of 12 specialist staff to help schools manage their cases.

“The team has the ability to add surge capacity and work closely with Regional Public Health,” Bell said.

She said that schools were responsible for determining and informing close contacts of cases.

“We support most schools with determining who the close contacts are. We ask that this occurs immediately given the possible health risk and we know that schools and kura have worked weekends and evenings to ensure this happens.”

Bell said that once MoE was notified, contact tracing usually happened within the same day.

She said that Regional Public Health had only closed one school for onsite learning in the Wellington region – St Patrick’s School in Masterton – due to a surge in cases.

The school moved online from Monday, February 14, but most students returned on Tuesday.

At other schools, school boards made the decision to close for onsite learning.

“We don’t ask schools to report to us on whether or not they are online learning, however they know that we are here to provide whatever support they need,” Bell said.

St Patrick’s School principal Steve Wheeler is isolating.

St Patrick’s School principal Steve Wheeler said about three-quarters of students returned on Monday, although Wheeler was still self-isolating until later in the week.

He said enough staff members had returned to cover all the returning students.

“People are pleased to be back,” Wheeler said.

“For us, it’s like restarting the year, because we’d only been at school for four days before we had to go into isolation.”

As of Monday, St Patrick’s staff and students made up about 30 of Wairarapa’s covid-19 cases.

Wheeler said the school would be better prepared in the event of another outbreak.

“I’m half expecting that at some point we’ll be hit again with another case, at least, but we’re certainly in a much better place now of knowing what to do and how to do it.”

He said St Patrick’s would be improving its covid-19 protocols to keep groups apart within the school.

“If a case does occur, it’s only that smaller group that gets isolated, not a bigger group.”

Wheeler said there were already separate bubbles within the school, but he would be looking at whether it was possible to make them smaller.

Masterton Intermediate School reopened on Tuesday for staff and pupils who had returned a negative test or were not close contacts with the school’s two positive cases.

Across New Zealand, 449 schools and early learning centres were being supported by regional education offices with case management as of 10.30am Monday.

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