He Pānui Kōhungahunga
COVID-19 update - 25 January 2022
He Pānui Kōhungahunga
COVID-19 update - 25 January 2022
Tēnā koe koutou me ngā āhuatanga o te wā, greetings to you in this new season of COVID-19.
As you’ll know the Omicron variant is now in some of our communities, and the motu is under the Red setting of the COVID-19 Protection Framework.
I know many of you will have planned for this outcome already, but in this special bulletin, we will outline some of the key measures under the traffic light system. We have also provided a letter template you can share with parents and whānau.
You’ll also find information on booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Thank you for your response to Sunday’s email and the queries you have already sent in – as always, please continue to send them through. It’s so helpful in shaping what we include in these bulletins.
Ngā mihi nui,
Preparing for Omicron
The COVID-19 Protection Framework (the framework) helps to protect Aotearoa from COVID-19.
Based on overseas experience and local modelling New Zealand is preparing for a likely Omicron outbreak.
Evidence to date suggests Omicron has a greater rate of transmission and individuals tend to be infectious sooner after exposure, but hospitalisation rates are lower and fewer patients had severe disease when compared with Delta.
It is not however a mild virus and there is little data on the severity among older age-groups and people with underlying risk factors.
With this in mind, we are reviewing the framework guidance for early learning services to support you to prepare for possible outbreaks of Omicron in your community. We do not anticipate any significant changes to the framework guidance at this stage and will continue to update you on any changes through the bulletin and our website,
Early learning services, along with most other services, will remain open onsite at all colour settings, for all children to attend, subject to health and safety settings.
As has always been the case throughout the COVID-19 response, some children or staff may be required to self-isolate (as they are a confirmed case or a close contact) or have complex medical needs, particularly if they are children and therefore not vaccinated, and therefore may not attend onsite for a period of time.
Your planning needs to consider what you would do if a large number of staff are unable to be onsite, for example because they have tested positive themselves or have been identified as close contacts.
Key health measures under the framework
Vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy in managing the COVID-19 pandemic and can help reduce the risk of outbreaks.
All workers in schools and licensed early learning settings, paid and unpaid, have had two vaccine doses by 1 January 2022 and many staff will now be due for their booster dose (see item below).
Vaccination levels vary from community to community. Where vaccinations are lower you may wish to introduce some other measures to augment the existing requirements. See the item below ‘Reviewing your COVID-19 Plan’ for more information, including checklists for COVID-19 things to consider for licensed early learning services and for playgroups.
At the Red setting, face coverings are a requirement for visitors (including parents) indoors.
What is an appropriate face covering?
Public health advice is that an ‘appropriate’ face covering will fit snugly and seal well around facial contours. This can include single use, disposable masks and reusable fabric masks with three layers (the blue ones that many people already use).
Case management and contact tracing
Your contract tracing systems (attendance register, visitor register and timetable) will continue to support your response should there be a case in your early learning service.
The Prime Minister has signalled that we will be managing cases differently in light of the Omicron variant. These changes are:
- the Casual Plus category is being removed and
- vaccination status will no longer be considered for different pathways.
These changes took effect from Friday 21 January 2022. We are working with Health to update our toolkits to reflect these changes.
We recommend you pre-populate the contract tracing spreadsheet included in the case management guidance now, so that you already have all contact details of staff and children in the spreadsheet. This will save you time if you have a confirmed case at your service as you will need to complete contract tracing as quickly as possible. Details of children and staff who were not at the service during the infectious period can just be deleted from the spreadsheet.
If you learn of a case who was likely infectious while at your service, immediately contact your Ministry of Education Single Point of Contact (MoE SPOC). Do not wait for us or Public Health to contact you to confirm the positive case.
Regional contacts for early learning services connected to a case.
Events and activities
In light of the greater risk of infection with a likely Omicron outbreak, we strongly recommend you do not hold events or activities that involve large numbers of people when at Red traffic light settings.
There should be no non-essential visitors onsite at Red.
If you do choose to go ahead, the event will need careful planning and we encourage you to consider how you will keep risk of spread to a minimum. For example, consider having different points for entry and exit, increased ventilation and requiring face coverings.
Events held outdoors continue to minimise risk.
The following information will assist you with your decision making, and understanding your responsibilities at Red:
Under Red we recommend fewer than usual numbers at outdoor and indoor pōwhiri*.
Advice about pōwhiri
- Consult your local iwi authority (mana whenua) regarding their COVID-19 response and guidelines pertaining to hosting pōwhiri.
- Refrain from hongi and harirū, instead consider adopting other practices – ’hā ki roto hā ki waho’ – that is sharing a combined inward and outward breath at the conclusion of the formalities.
- Hold pōwhiri outdoors wherever possible.
- If indoors, ensure numbers are limited and consider holding more than one pōwhiri with smaller groups.
*Also spelt as pōhiri
Distancing and Groupings
Maintaining a physical distance from others, particularly people you don’t know, continues to be an effective measure to reduce risk of infection.
To minimise congestion, consider staggering drop-offs and pick-ups and conducting these outdoors as much as possible. Some will still need to come onsite and settle their child. They must wear face coverings in these instances and should be encouraged to remain physically distant from others, especially when indoors.
Good hygiene and cleaning
Continue using and encouraging good hygiene practices including:
- regular hand washing/sanitising
- cough and sneeze etiquette
- regular cleaning of high-touch surfaces
- open doors and windows.
Stay home if sick and get tested
Ensure tamariki or staff members with COVID-19 symptoms get a COVID-19 test and remain at home until a negative result is received and they are symptom free for 24 hours.
Maintaining good ventilation in early learning services is recommended at all settings of the COVID-19 Protection Framework.
Keeping your windows and doors open as much as you can to keep fresh air moving through your indoor activity areas is the fastest and best way to ventilate a space.
- It’s good practice to keep your windows open all day, not just during times when most children are outside, to readily replace indoor air with fresh air from outside.
- If it’s not practical to fully open windows and doors throughout the day, try opening them just a little and then fully open them when children are playing outside or when the room begins to feel stuffy.
- Where it is an option, opening windows and doors on the opposite sides of a room may increase the flow of air through the space. Opening high windows can also be very effective.
- Ensure that security is not compromised by locking windows and doors fully after hours.
Some early learning services may have permanently fixed or painted their windows shut for child safety reasons.
The safety of children in regard to falling out of windows or being able to leave the service unattended of course takes precedence over being able to open windows fully.
But we recommend that you consider solutions like safety latches that may allow you to partially open windows while still maintaining child safety.
Portable HEPA air cleaners/purifiers
We are aware that some early learning services are being approached by suppliers offering to sell air monitoring and air treatment technologies.
Advice from leading international authorities including World Health Organization and the US Center for Disease Control is that portable air cleaners are not a substitute for good ventilation in any circumstance.
HEPA refers to a high-efficiency particulate absorbing filter used in mechanical ventilation systems and portable air cleaners.
When used properly, portable HEPA air cleaners can remove exhaled particles from the air, reducing airborne transmission of viruses by aerosols, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
If you have been approached by a supplier, it’s important to understand that products on the market vary greatly in how they function, their suitability in an early learning space, quality and accuracy and where they’re ideally located.
Some systems promoted as air cleaners can produce ozone or other products that can be harmful in an early learning setting.
Reviewing your COVID-19 plan
In light of the Omicron variant, it is timely for you to review your COVID-19 plan.
If you need help with your planning:
The COVID-19 Protection Framework contains a number of requirements and recommendations to help reduce the risk of an outbreak. However, each early learning service has a unique community and context which will also inform your health and safety planning.
For example, early learning services in a community with vaccination rates below 90% or whose population is more vulnerable to severe illness, or where your children and/or staff population is more vulnerable to severe illness, may wish to consider further mitigations that can be implemented at any setting of the framework.
We have developed checklists for COVID-19 things to consider for licensed early learning services and for playgroups to support you when considering whether any further mitigations might be introduced in each of your framework settings.
Plan for more disruption
If Omicron does take hold, there is very likely to be a greater impact on New Zealand’s supply chain. Some considerations to inform your COVID-19 planning:
- Readiness for localised restrictions – tighter restrictions are still an option under the framework if public health systems are overwhelmed and/or there are very high case numbers. These restrictions will likely take effect with little notice.
- Scale and timeframe of outbreak – in some communities if there is an Omicron outbreak it may occur very quickly before it eases and infect a large proportion of people or those who are isolating as a close contact at the same time. In other situations, there may be continuous impact on the community with rolling absences over a longer period of time.
- Mitigating key person or key service dependencies – ensure you have a number of key service staff available, qualified first-aid staff and staff to oversee the contact management process or emergency management response capability.
- Backups for cleaning or other services – in case of illness/isolation requirements, so that minimum standards can continue to be met.
Supporting children to return
The priority remains to have children onsite to best support their engagement in learning.
Our letter template (linked below) can help support your messaging to parents, caregivers and whānau to encourage their tamariki to return to early learning.
There is also helpful information on our parents and whānau website that you may wish to draw from or include as links in your communications.
Unvaccinated parents and caregivers
As noted in the 19 November Bulletin, all licensed early learning services are prohibited from requiring proof of vaccination (either via My Vaccine Pass or other tool) as a condition of entry, using or accessing education.
This prohibition applies to all children and their parents or caregivers.
This means that a person’s vaccination status should not restrict learning for children. Neither should it restrict parents and caregivers from supporting their children in their learning.
As the prohibition relates to ‘access to education’, parents who volunteer at an early learning service must provide proof of vaccination. This might be a pass, but other forms of evidence are also acceptable. This vaccination requirement does not apply to those who are performing services remotely or who are onsite only when children are not present.
Requiring proof of vaccination is not prohibited for some events and activities that occur on site at early learning services. This could include fundraising fairs, concerts or community events where participants extend beyond staff, parents, caregivers and learners. Nor will it be prohibited for third-party users of early learning premises outside licensed hours.
Other mitigations to minimise risk
All your staff and volunteers being vaccinated is a significant mitigation of risk. Consider, also the range of health and safety measures that can be put in place to help keep those on site as safe as possible:
- treat all parents and caregivers coming onsite to support their child’s learning, as unvaccinated
- at Red, ask non-essential visitors not to come onsite
- do not hold events and activities, including those that bring parents and caregivers onsite (no more than 100)
- all visitors must wear a face covering
- strongly encourage staff to wear a face covering when meeting with visitors, including parents and caregivers
- physical distancing is recommended where practicable
- consider whether engagement with parents and caregivers can be held outside rather than inside
- hold meetings which do need to go ahead via Zoom, Teams or similar
- if it is necessary to meet onsite, ensure the room being used is spacious and well ventilated
- ensure hand sanitiser is available indoors
- reiterate that anyone who is not feeling well should not come onto the site and encourage them to seek advice about getting tested.
In general, playgroups are not covered by the COVID-19 vaccination mandate as they are not licensed early learning services.
However, under the COVID-19 Protection Framework certified playgroups are considered close-proximity services. In the Red setting playgroups can only operate with Vaccine Passes.
Misinformation, disinformation and abuse
Unfortunately, a small number of individuals are resorting to harassment and abuse of early learning staff and communities.
Report abuse – if you receive inappropriate contact online, you can make a non-emergency report to the police on 105. Call 111 for emergencies.
As we start our third year of delivering education in a global pandemic, we cannot underestimate the impact of the last two years on you, your staff and your community.
Children will again look to adults for guidance on how to react to stressful events. If parents or teachers seem overly worried, the anxiety of children may rise.
Parents and teachers can reassure children that everyone is working together to help people throughout the country stay healthy and to limit the spread of this virus.
As things change, families and whānau will also want to stay connected with you. Things may be challenging for some children and their families. As an individual teacher you might not have all the answers but working collectively can help. Work with parents, your colleagues, iwi, social and health agencies and other services in your community.
Our website has a range of resources and information on COVID-19 and wellbeing that will be helpful for you and the wellbeing of children and young people and their whānau.
COVID-19 wellbeing guide – Ministry of Education
EAP services extended
As noted in our 7 December bulletin, centrally funded wellbeing support services will continue to be available to the education workforce this year.
All teachers, regular relievers and support staff in early learning services are eligible to access these services.
You’ll find further information about these EAP services on our website:
Or if you any questions call 0800 327 669 / 1800 726474 or visit:
Care in the community
Omicron arriving in our communities will be tough for many families across New Zealand.
If families do need to isolate, most people will be able to look after themselves with help from friends and whānau. However, some people may need help with things like food and groceries.
Families self-isolating who need extra support can call the COVID Welfare Phone Line on 0800 512 337 – it’s open seven days a week. MSD will connect callers with someone - they may be from a local community organisation, a government agency or marae-based services or support that iwi have established.
See the letter template for further details to share with your community and further information is also available on the COVID-19 website:
Public Health Order requiring mandatory booster doses
The mandatory vaccination requirements for people working in early learning services, schools and kura have been updated to require a COVID-19 booster dose.
The booster requirement applies to everyone who was affected by the 15 November and 1 January education workforce vaccination mandates. This is, everyone who works for an early childhood service who may have contact with children or will be present at a time when children are also present. This includes teachers, support staff, relief and casual staff, caretakers and cleaners, as well as adults over the age of 18 living in the home where home-based education and care takes place.
You can find more information on in the 3 November bulletin.
The COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Amendment Order 2022 has been published and came into force at 11.59pm on 23 January 2022.
To meet the booster dose requirements as set out in the revised Public Health Order:
- all affected persons need to have received two COVID-19 vaccinations as well as a booster dose within 183 days of their second vaccination
- if 183 days have already passed since the person received their second vaccination, they are required to receive their booster dose by 1 March 2022
- any person who does not meet these requirements will not be able to continue working on site.
Everyone aged 18 and over who has received two initial COVID-19 vaccinations is able to receive a vaccine booster dose four months after receiving their second vaccination.
The Pfizer vaccine booster shot is the main COVID-19 booster being used in New Zealand. An AstraZeneca booster is also available. This is also available at least four months after receiving a second vaccination of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Those who wish to receive this booster will need a prescription from their GP or vaccinating AstraZeneca clinic.
Next steps for licensed early childhood services:
Services will need to:
- Communicate to all employees and volunteers the new requirement to receive booster doses within 183 days of receiving their second COVID-19 vaccination. You will be provided with a template letter to assist with this communication.
- Add the date people received their second COVID-19 vaccination and their booster dose to their COVID-19 register for their employees and volunteers. You will need to monitor this and ensure that only people who meet these vaccinations and booster dose requirements continue to work on site.
People who hold a valid temporary medical exemption issued by the Ministry of Health that prevents them from being vaccinated against COVID-19 are also exempt from the booster dose requirement.
However, note that medical exemptions are usually only available for the length of time that people need to arrange for a medically tolerable vaccination.
All medical exemptions expire within six months of being issued and upon expiration of a person’s medical exemption they are subject to all vaccination requirements including the booster requirement. Alternatively, they need to arrange a further medical exemption.
The vaccine remains New Zealand’s key defence against all variants of COVID-19, including Omicron.
With a highly vaccinated adult population, our focus is on the vaccination rollout:
- to 5 to 11-years- old
- for boosters as people become eligible to add further protection.
When Omicron enters communities, we will work with the Ministry of Health to review the response in relation to education settings.
We know there is a high degree of interest in the availability of rapid antigen testing (RAT). At this time the Ministry of Health has not yet finalised guidelines on the use of RAT, but we know RAT will not be used for regular surveillance testing once Omicron is widespread in the community. They will only be available for those who are symptomatic or those who are defined as close contacts.
You will also be aware that there is a worldwide supply issue with RAT therefore the Ministry of Health will be allocating any supplies to the most vulnerable and most effective use.
At this stage of the response to Omicron, the gold-standard PCR test will continue to be used along with contact tracing and rapidly isolating cases and contacts.
Letter template for parents and whānau
We have drafted a letter template that you can edit as needed. We appreciate it is very long, but is able to be cut down to suit, or easy to spread across more than one communication.
There is also a wide variety of COVID-19 information in 27 languages and four alternate formats on the Unite Against COVID-19 website.
Relief funding (vaccine mandate)
Some early learning services have needed to work through employment processes with staff who have not met the vaccine mandate requirements.
As advised in the 21 December bulletin we will be providing support to early learning services for the cost of relief staff to cover unvaccinated teachers and staff during their notice period.
We are currently developing an application process and will provide details in February 2022 on how to apply for this support in the bulletin. In the meantime, keep all records as you will need to provide evidence that the costs relate to relief staffing due to the vaccine mandate.
Applications will open by March 2022.