He Pitopito Kōrero
COVID-19 update - 15 February 2022
He Pitopito Kōrero
COVID-19 update - 15 February 2022
Tēnā koutou me ngā āhuatanga o te wā,
We’ve received a number of queries from schools about whether you are able to use heat pumps and air conditioning to heat or cool spaces (and whether this still keeps classrooms and shared spaces well ventilated).
While these units don’t provide fresh air flow, you can use them to heat or cool a space alongside natural ventilation measures. Though this may be less energy efficient (and certainly goes against what many of us have been taught growing up), we understand it may be required to help manage indoor temperature.
A reminder that making sure classrooms and all other indoor spaces are well ventilated is recommended for all settings in the traffic light system.
With the number of Omicron cases increasing in our communities, the Government has announced that New Zealand will move to Phase 2 of the Omicron response at 11.59pm tonight Tuesday 15 February in order to continue to minimise and slow further spread.
Three vaccination shots remains the most effective tool against COVID-19. The main change under Phase 2 is in relation to testing and isolation regimes.
Learn more about Phase 2 below, alongside information about the close contact exemption scheme and rapid antigen testing. There is information about Phase 2 for school hostels too.
Omicron in the community: Phase 2 and what this means for you
In Phase 2, cases of Omicron have spread in the community, and we need to minimise and slow further spread.
This means changes for:
- case investigation and contact tracing
- isolation and quarantine
- health and social support – care in the community.
Things you can do to protect yourself through all phases
- Get your COVID-19 booster shot.
- Continue to mask, scan and pass wherever you go.
- Maintain good hygiene and physical distancing.
- Stay home if unwell.
It is also recommended that five to 11-year-olds get immunised.
Close contact exemption scheme and rapid antigen testing
Last week, the Government announced the close contact exemption scheme to keep critical supply chains running when we enter Phase 2 of the Omicron response.
The scheme will enable people who are close contacts of a positive COVID-19 case to continue to go to work if what they do is critical for our supply chains and for key sectors to keep operating.
People accessing the scheme must have no symptoms and return a daily negative rapid antigen test (RAT).
Services provided by school hostels are covered under the scheme because they are critical for meeting basic human needs.
School hostels must be able to continue to provide services throughout Phases 2 and 3, particularly for those students who are unable to return home. This means that if a hostel staff member becomes a close contact, they would be eligible under the scheme if their role is critical to ensure hostel services continue.
We encourage all schools and kura that provide hostel services to be part of the close contact exemption scheme and we will work directly with MBIE to pre-register school hostels so that in the event you need it, you will be ready to go.
If you need any support, please contact your education advisor or your Te Mahau regional COVID-19 contact.
Ka Ora, Ka Ako and period products providers
Ka Ora, Ka Ako and period product providers are also able to access the scheme should they need it.
Schools and kura
Generally, we are not anticipating schools and kura will need to access the scheme for staff (other than those employed in critical roles in school hostels).
However, there may be some situations where it will be necessary for schools and kura to access the scheme – for example, in instances where you have insufficient staff able to come onsite to supervise the children of critical workers who are unable to have them at home.
We encourage you to work with your education advisor or your Te Mahau regional COVID-19 contact if you are in this situation.
Any decision to access the scheme will need to be balanced against the health risks for students. All agencies are being asked to complete spot checks of registrations to ensure the scheme is being used appropriately.
Purchasing rapid antigen tests (RATs)
We are aware that some schools are being approached by providers to purchase rapid antigen tests (RATs).
You do not need to buy RATs. If and when your school or hostel require them to meet the current Phase 2 provisions, they will be provided.
Phase 2 for school hostels
With the move to Phase 2 of the Omicron response, hostel management will need to continue to prepare for cases among their staff or boarders.
Identifying and isolating close contacts
As part of your response to a case, you will need to help identify close contacts of the case. Close contacts will be required to isolate for seven days from the last date they were exposed to the case and get tested on day five. COVID-positive cases will be expected to isolate for 10 days.
The case management toolkit for schools and kura will assist you to provide close contact data to public health, so that they can track and support close contacts. Appendix 7 of the toolkit details how you will identify who are close contacts of a case. There are also letter templates which can be repurposed to send to staff, boarders and parents and caregivers.
If you haven’t already done so, it would be timely to ensure you have correct email addresses, cell phone numbers and emergency contact information for your boarders, staff, and parents and caregivers.
You will also want to identify any boarder and live-in staff member who cannot be safely returned home to isolate in the event they become a case. Confirmed cases cannot use public transport, so any boarder whose family home is on another island cannot be sent home to isolate.
Please continue to focus on all the mitigation measures you have in place, including good ventilation.
Ask your boarders to report to staff as soon as they are feeling unwell. The most common symptoms reported for Omicron infection are sore throat, cough, runny/stuffy nose and fatigue.
If you haven’t done so yet, we strongly recommend that you group your boarders as much as is practicable so that they don’t intermingle with other groups. This will help reduce the numbers of boarders and staff required to isolate should there be a case in their midst.
Air out spaces thoroughly and clean and disinfect high touch surfaces in between uses.
Adult-to-adult and adult-to-child transmission remains the greater risk. We strongly recommend that all your staff are wearing medical-grade masks when they are working with other staff and directly engaged with boarders.
Wherever practicable those staff should work at least one metre away from each other and from boarders.
Review plans for those most at risk
If you have staff or boarders who are at greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19, review the management plan you have with them and reinforce messaging about the importance of staff and boarders following that plan to minimise risk.
Impacts of Omicron
A smaller proportion of people who are infected with Omicron need to go to hospital compared to people infected with Delta.
Generally, children and young people continue to be less affected by COVID-19 than adults, however Omicron can still cause severe illness and even death, especially in people who are at risk of severe outcomes.
Vaccination, including boosters, remains a crucial defence against serious illness.
Dr Siouxsie Wiles has reported on research in the United States where, over two months from early November to early January, infections were four times higher and hospitalisations were 23 times higher for the unvaccinated (compared to people who had their booster dose).
The rate of infections and hospitalisations were five times higher for unvaccinated compared to double-vaccinated people.
Phase 2 update to contact tracing
In line with the shift to Phase 2, the contact tracing toolkit and step-by-step guide for managing COVID-19 in schools and kura has been updated.
The key change for contact tracing in Phase 2 is the reduction in self-isolation periods.
Update for Auckland schools
The process for Auckland is changing in response to the number of cases that Auckland currently has. Public health are working with Reach Aotearoa to support case management. We will provide more information to Auckland schools about this during the week.
In the meantime, please continue to follow your current processes.
Release letters and returning to school after isolation
As you will be aware, those who have completed self-isolating from COVID-19 if they were a confirmed case or close contact currently receive a release letter via email.
In the event you have any staff or students who have been required to self-isolate, we encourage you to support their return to school as soon as their isolation period ends. Students and staff are not required to provide the release letter in advance of their return.
Please note, at Phase 2 we expect the production of release letters will stop.
Updated information about masks
On the order form we suggested you order a supply of masks based on your estimate for usage for up to one week. Please only order more stock if your current stock is running low.
Reminder: Use of masks throughout the day
As in our bulletin on 8 February, the Ministry of Health has advised that there is no specific time limit for how long a single-use mask is effective, and you do not necessarily need to change your mask regularly throughout the day.
School staff are able to wear a medical mask until it is damp, soiled or damaged – staff members may therefore only need one or two masks a day.
Enforcing the mask mandate
As you know, in the Red setting the Public Health Order requires that masks to be worn when indoors by students in Years 4 to 13 and the staff who are supporting them.
The criteria for not wearing a mask is on the Unite Against COVID-19 website. Anyone who considers themselves to meet the criteria cannot be required to provide evidence that they meet the criteria. You are therefore not required to undertake an enforcement role in this regard.
It’s not always obvious why someone can’t wear a mask. If not dealt with in a sensitive and respectful manner, questioning someone’s eligibility for a mask exemption could unintentionally victimise people further. Where someone is exempted, it is important that they are supported to not wear a mask.
You will know that there are many layers of protection in schools, including people who are unwell staying away, increasing rates of vaccination across the population including mandated vaccinations for staff and volunteers, good ventilation, other students and staff wearing masks, good cough and sneeze etiquette and more. Those who are wearing a mask will be better protected than those who are not.
The information in our bulletin on 8 February may also be helpful.
Additional tips for schools and kura about mask wearing while at Red
We have compiled some additional tips for schools and kura about mask wearing, including tips for kaiako communicating with their classes and supporting Deaf and hard of hearing ākonga.
Frequently asked questions about masks
Will the Ministry be supplying masks for tamariki?
We will be providing an additional one-off supply of masks to schools and kura for all learners in Years 4 and above (up to Year 13). This supply is very limited and will be based on roll size and decile to enable you to cover any additional needs you may face.
However, masks for tamariki are unlikely to be available before late February.
Will the Ministry be supplying transparent masks?
Unfortunately, no. New Zealand has a very limited stock of transparent masks that is being distributed by Ko Taku Reo (New Zealand’s provider of education services for Deaf and hard of hearing children). The remainder will be sent to specialist schools.
Reminder: Join our live Q&A on ventilation
A reminder that we are running two Q&A sessions about ventilation in schools this Thursday 17 February and next Wednesday 23 February.
Find out more on our website and register:
The Q&As will include a presentation on ventilation, CO2 monitors and air cleaners in schools, followed by time for questions – please share this to anyone in your school who may have a role in maintaining, assessing or improving ventilation (for example, a caretaker or maintenance person).
March roll return
This year the March roll count date is 1 March with returns due no later than 8 March.
The 2022 school roll return guidelines are now available on Education Counts.
If you have Secondary-Tertiary Programme (Trades Academies) students, ensure you have checked with the providers and have the correct details recorded in your student management system.
Changes this year
New language options are available for Pacific languages programmes, and further checks have been added to the data quality reports.
Refer to page 8 of the guidelines for the full list of changes in 2022 with links to further information.
Schools using a student management system (SMS) should ensure they are using the latest version. The list of systems approved for roll returns for 2022 is available on Education Counts.
Schools not using an SMS should complete the excel template provided on the Education Counts website and send to us via the Secure Data Portal. Please read the instructions tab for more information on how to use this form.
If you have any questions or comments about the roll return process please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donations scheme recalculation for roll increases
Donations scheme funding will be automatically reviewed and increased if schools have experience roll growth between their July roll return and their March roll return.
The difference will be paid to schools as part of their July operational grant instalment.
If you have any questions about the donations scheme, please email email@example.com.
2021 financial reporting reminder
We understand that preparing your annual financial reporting and participating in the audit process under the current COVID-19 protection framework settings may be challenging, and that the health, safety and wellbeing of staff and students is your priority.
We encourage you to contact your school finance advisor if you have any questions or concerns regarding your 2021 financial reporting, and we can discuss how we are best able to support you with these.
Guidance on preparing your 2021 financial reporting is also available on our website.
A reminder that the following statutory reporting deadlines apply:
- your 2021 financial statements are due to be submitted to your auditor by 31 March 2022. We encourage you to do this as soon as you can
- once your auditor has completed their audit of your financial statements and provided their report, you should:
- submit your signed 2021 annual report to the Ministry by Tuesday 31 May using the Secure Data Portal, and
- publish your 2021 annual report on your school’s website.
If your school does not have its own website, email firstname.lastname@example.org to request that we publish it on Education Counts.
Extension of deadlines for submissions to regionally allocated PLD
Due to the continued added strain of the COVID-19 pandemic on school leaders, we have decided to extend the deadline for regionally allocated PLD submissions by a week.
Proposals must now be submitted by Friday 25 February. We plan for schools to be informed of the outcome by the start of the final week of Term 1. We hope this will take some of the pressure off your teams during an already difficult time.
Regional offices are also able to progress out-of-round proposals from schools and kura who have been affected by ongoing pressures due to COVID-19. Please contact your regional office PLD lead for more details.
National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement (NMSSA) 2022
National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement (NMSSA) will be assessing achievement in the curriculum learning areas of health, physical education and mathematics and statistics in selected primary and intermediate schools.
This month NMSSA will invite selected schools to participate in Term 3 of 2022.
Update: Five-year-old children enrolled in school
Our bulletin on 1 February noted that “While families wait for their application to be assessed, legally all children aged over six years must be enrolled at and attending school (children can enrol at age five and once enrolled must attend)”.
Children who are enrolled in school from the age of five may be removed from the roll before their sixth birthday at their parents’ request. In this instance, children will not be required to attend school until they turn six.
Schools should update ENROL using the leave reason “caregiver decision” for these situations.