He Pitopito Kōrero
COVID-19 update - 24 February 2022
He Pitopito Kōrero
COVID-19 update - 24 February 2022
Ngā mihi o te ahiahi,
You’ll be aware that this afternoon the Government announced that New Zealand is moving into Phase 3 of our response to Omicron from 11:59pm tonight Thursday 24 February.
In Phase 3, only household contacts of confirmed cases are required to self-isolate. The isolation period will be 10 days. All other contacts of COVID-positive people are not required to isolate, but they will need to monitor for symptoms. Rapid antigen tests will become the primary testing method.
This is a decision that has been made based on public health advice – the high vaccination rate across the country will do its job in protecting us from transmission during the next surge of cases. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to get your booster.
I’m aware that one of the biggest challenges you will face in the coming weeks is attendance and working with those parents and whānau who may have concerns about their child/ren being at school.
Attending school has so many benefits for the learning and wellbeing of our tamariki and ākonga. We encourage you to work to understand whānau reasons for keeping their tamariki and ākonga away from school, assure them that we have very good systems in place to keep everyone as safe as possible, and to support their return to school.
You are doing a truly impressive job of maintaining learning as well as providing up-to-date health information and assurance to your students, staff and parents that everything that needs to be done is being done – and that their safety and wellbeing is the top priority. Mahi tika ana, keep up the great work, and please get in touch with your local Te Mahau office if you need any additional support.
In today’s bulletin, please find our guidance for Phase 3 and some important information on your March roll return.
Information on moving to Phase 3
Although New Zealand is moving to Phase 3 of our Omicron response, we are still at Red under the COVID-19 Protection Framework.
As such, the same mitigation measures to reduce spread of COVID-19 remain in place: vigilance about symptoms and staying away if unwell continue to be a priority.
Moving to Phase 3 will ease some of the pressure on our testing and contact tracing services over the next three to six weeks, while helping to ensure critical services and supply chains remain operational and our economy keeps moving.
Because so many of us are now vaccinated and Omicron is less severe, we can have a more devolved response and much greater self-management. Care and support will continue to be there for those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19.
Below we’ve outlined what Phase 3 will mean for you.
Contract tracing changes for your school
This will become much easier because only household contacts of a case must isolate. All other contacts should continue to monitor for symptoms. If any arise, they should stay home from school and get a test.
We recommend that you remind all staff, students, children, parents and caregivers to monitor for symptoms at all times. This will remove the need to individually remind people who may have come in contact with a case to do so (that is, you will no longer need to use the letter templates for contacts of a case).
Cases themselves are now asked to undertake their own investigation to identify close contacts. As such, your staff, students, parents and caregivers should notify your school if they or their child was positive while at school.
While you may want to keep your community informed of every case, there is no expectation that you do so. You will know your communities best and what works for them.
The close contact exemption scheme continues to be available for any household contacts who are required to isolate. Again, this would be a last resort for you, but will support you to keep operating onsite for those children who need to attend.
Isolation period for cases and household contacts
A case will need to isolate at home for 10 days, as will anyone else in the household.
Rapid antigen tests are now being used as a diagnostic tool
There will be a lot more rapid antigen tests (RATs) used at Phase 3.
PCR testing will be prioritised for people who are unwell and people who are more susceptible. For example, this will include those in hospital or who are immunocompromised or pregnant – people for whom it is very important to have a clinical diagnosis. It will also continue to be used for border testing.
Anyone who tests positive with a RAT will need to self-report their positive result and then isolate for 10 days. There is no longer a need to follow up with a PCR test to confirm that result.
Cases will now receive a text notification advising they have COVID-19. The text will outline what the case and their household need to do.
You will need to advise your regional Te Mahau contact about any positive cases connected with your school. You will need to let us know if they are a student, teacher, another staff member or parent. Schools will no longer need to identify and keep records of close contacts in schools.
Transitional arrangements for close contacts isolating prior to 25 February
People who are currently self-isolating as close contacts and are not household contacts can stop isolating and return to school from tomorrow Friday 25 February if they are asymptomatic.
They are not required to produce a negative test result.
School hostels and Phase 3
Your requirements and processes for managing cases will not change at Phase 3 from those currently in place.
The same health mitigations required at Red under the COVID-19 Protection Framework remain in place.
The Ministry of Health have confirmed that rather than identifying everyone in the hostel as a household contact if you were to have a confirmed case, it is sensible from a risk-perspective to continue to use the 1.5 metre distance as your main guide for identifying close contacts of the confirmed case.
Using poorly ventilated rooms will increase numbers identified as a close contact and therefore required to isolate if there is a case in your hostel.
You will still need to advise your regional Te Mahau contact about any positive cases connected with your hostel.
We are revising the guidance sent to you last week regarding safely isolating in your hostel, but the key change is updating the table for contact categorising on page 12. We will send the updated guidance to you as soon as possible.
School camps and overnight trips
We will provide further advice about school camps or other overnight trips in a bulletin next week.
Communicating Phase 3 to parents and whānau
As noted by Minister Hipkins, the traffic light system aims to keep people safe, with as little disruption to their day-to-day lives as possible.
We all know how important being at school is for ākonga. We also know that schools continue to be lower-risk settings for transmission of COVID-19 because of all the mitigations you have in place.
We have drafted a letter template to support your communications to parents, whānau and caregivers which can be edited to suit your needs.
Roll return eligibility
There has been some confusion about attendance coding and how this may relate to roll return eligibility.
The coding of absences does not have a direct correlation to roll return inclusion. For example, unjustified absences do not mean that students should be automatically excluded from inclusion on a roll return. See below for more information.
March roll return 2022
This year the March roll count date is Tuesday 1 March with returns due no later than Tuesday 8 March.
Two requirements must be met before a student is included on a roll return. These are:
- the student must be enrolled or attending the school for tuition on the roll count date
- the student must also meet the eligibility criteria of being a domestic student.
Students studying from home are still attending for tuition and remain eligible to be included in your roll return as per normal.
Domestic students who have delayed starting at your school due to risk of exposure to COVID-19 can still be included in your March roll return student numbers, provided your school has enrolment information (paper-based or electronic) confirming the students enrolment with an intent to start prior to or on the roll count date (1 March).
Domestic students who are temporarily overseas can be included for resourcing, provided that your school has a statement of their intention to return to your school, and their absence does not exceed 15 consecutive weeks in the current school year.
Students who are absent on the roll count date
Students who are absent on the roll count date can be included on the March roll return, but only where the absence is considered temporary, and the student will return to school after the roll count date.
Reminder: Booster vaccines required by 1 March
As detailed in previous bulletins, everyone who is covered by the mandatory vaccination requirements must have their booster by Tuesday 1 March or 183 days after their second shot (whichever is later).
As previously advised, this means that:
- workers who received their second vaccination on or before 30 August 2021 will need to have had their booster by Tuesday 1 March 2022 to continue working on site
- workers who received their second vaccination from 31 August 2021 onwards will need to receive their booster shot within 183 days of their second shot
- the booster requirements apply to everyone under the coverage of original vaccination requirements who is over the age of 18, that is, people working or volunteering at or for early learning services, schools and kura who may have contact with children or students or will be present on site at a time when children and students are also present. This includes teachers, teacher aides, support staff, relief and casual staff, caretakers and cleaners, volunteers, and contractors. Information about how the vaccination mandate applies to each role can be found here, including examples that help show how the booster requirements apply in practice
- if a worker has not received their booster by Tuesday 1 March or within 183 days after their second vaccination dose, they will not be able to have contact with children or students or be present at a time that children or students are also present.
More information on managing implications for staff impacted by the vaccine requirements on our website.
People who hold a valid temporary medical exemption issued by the Ministry of Health which prevents them from being vaccinated against COVID-19 are also exempt from the booster dose requirement.
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 no later than 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 obtain a further medical exemption.