He Pitopito Kōrero
COVID-19 update - 25 January 2022
He Pitopito Kōrero
COVID-19 update - 25 January 2022
Tēnā koe me ngā āhuatanga o te wā, greetings to you in this new season of COVID-19.
Just a week out from the beginning of Term 1, you’ll know the Omicron variant is now in some of our communities, and you will be beginning your school year 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 framework. 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, as well as an update on immunisations for children aged five to 11.
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 helps to protect Aotearoa from COVID-19.
Based on overseas experience and local modelling, New Zealand has been preparing for an Omicron outbreak.
Evidence to date suggests Omicron has a greater rate of transmission, individuals tend to be infectious sooner after exposure, 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 (see the epidemiological update from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control – ECDC).
With this in mind, we have reviewed the framework guidance for schools and early learning services to support your preparations for possible outbreaks of COVID-19 in your community.
Schools to remain open at all traffic light settings
There are no changes to the framework as a result of that review. Schools, along with most other services, will remain open on site at all colour settings, for all students to attend, subject to health and safety settings.
As has always been the case throughout the COVID-19 response, some children, students 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 not fully vaccinated, and therefore may not attend on site for a period of time.
Your planning needs to consider what you would do if a large number of staff are unable to be at school. While it is unlikely that schools will be closed for public health reasons, you and your board may consider that in extreme circumstances staff and students may need to work remotely for a period of time.
Planning in these extreme circumstances will need to accommodate the needs of students under 14 who would not have supervision or who would be unsafe at home and must therefore be able to access supervision and care at school.
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, 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 a risk assessment template.
Your school board may decide that offering vaccinations at school (a school-based programme), or on a school site is in the best interests of your community.
Your school can be used as a community vaccination site, which will be able to vaccinate staff, students and whānau using a District Health Board (DHB) vaccination team or other DHB approved provider.
Should a school and local health provider agree that the school will be used as a vaccination site, they will be the joint PCBU – school boards for the health and safety of people on the school site and Ministry of Health/the health provider for the health and safety in relation to vaccine logistics and delivery.
The Ministry of Health have set up a dedicated email you can use for any queries about vaccinations: email@example.com.
Evidence of vaccinations
You cannot require evidence of a child’s vaccination status, nor can any child be excluded from education outside the classroom (EOTC) based on vaccination status.
If you do ask about vaccination status, you must take reasonable steps to ensure the information is collected lawfully, including students being aware of how this information will be used and why it is being collected.
Personal information about an individual’s vaccine status must be protected and cannot be shared without the student’s consent.
COVID-19 immunisation programme for ages 5 to 11 is now available
Parents and caregivers now have the opportunity to protect their tamariki aged five to 11 against COVID-19 by being immunised with a child (by a paediatric) formulation of the Pfizer vaccine.
The vaccine used is a children’s version of the Pfizer vaccine with a lower dose than used for adults. Children will need two doses of the vaccine and it is recommended to have the first and second dose at least eight weeks apart.
There are a number of websites available with resources that will help explain what the vaccine is, how it works and whether the vaccine is safe for young people.
The Government confirmed today that masks (not face coverings) will be required at Red for children and staff in Years 4 to 13 when indoors. This requirement will take effect nine days from today’s announcement.
The Government is also now requiring that a face covering be an actual mask to ensure that it is properly designed to cover your nose and mouth properly. That means no more scarves, bandannas or t-shirts pulled up over the face, for example.
It is also now recommended that masks be a medical-grade mask (that is, a Type IIR/Level 2 mask or above). These include the widely available ‘blue’ medical-grade masks that many New Zealanders are already wearing.
A reminder that there are a number of exemptions to wearing a mask including if you have to communicate with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, or the person has a physical or mental health illness or condition or disability that makes wearing a face covering unsuitable.
Younger children will need help to learn how to wear a mask and the reason for wearing them: they are a protection. We understand many of you are using the analogy of sun hats and sunscreens.
Here is information and a video that may help explain to young children how to safely put a mask on and remove it.
Currently public transport and school transport requires face coverings to be worn for those aged 12 and above at Red, however there has now been agreement to extend this to Year 4 and above so that the requirements are consistent. We will advise you when this change takes effect.
We have secured an initial supply of appropriate masks for teachers and school workers, which can be distributed for the start of Term 1. Our distribution channels are well established and can usually deliver within 48 hours of receiving orders.
As you can appreciate, there is significant global demand so we want to make sure that our stock goes to those with the highest need first. We will therefore provide further information on the ordering process no later than Friday morning.
We are working with the Ministry of Health to secure additional stock should it be needed.
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 school.
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
- vaccination status will no longer be considered for different pathways.
These changes took effect from Friday 21 January 2022. We are working with the Ministry of Health to update our tool kits to reflect these changes.
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 students, such as school assemblies, when at Red traffic light settings.
There should be no non-essential visitors onsite at Red. Non-curriculum related events can only go ahead if you are using the My Vaccine Pass (this applies to all attendees, including students).
Events held outdoors continue to minimise risk.
At Red, singing must held be outside with participants two metres distance.
A reminder we have developed events and activities flowcharts to support your planning for any events or activities. Our 2 December bulletin also provided information to support decisions on whether an event would be considered curriculum-related, or not.
The following information will assist you with your decision-making and help you understand your responsibilities at Red:
Under Red we recommend fewer than usual numbers at outdoor and indoor pōwhiri/pohiri.
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, for example, ’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.
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.
- You will need to group your students when at Red, so that wherever possible they do not intermingle with other groups (keep a minimum of one-metre distance between groups). This is particularly important in primary settings where vaccination rates will be much lower than in secondary settings.
- There is no physical distancing requirement between group members, only between groups.
- You should not bring together large groups of students indoors.
- Consider setting up one-way systems for corridors, staggering start times, finish times and breaks, and rostering the use of playground equipment and other outdoor spaces.
- To minimise congestion, parents and caregivers should be encouraged to do drop-offs and pick-ups from outside the school grounds. Some will still need to come on site (for example, to settle in a new entrant into class). 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, students 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.
Ventilation and CO2 monitors
Maintaining good ventilation in schools is recommended at all levels of the COVID-19 Protection Framework. Keeping your windows and doors open as much as you can to keep fresh air moving through your classrooms is the fastest and best way to ventilate a space.
Please stay up to date with our guidance on ventilation and contact your property adviser with any concerns.
From next week onward, we will be distributing CO2 monitors to all state and state-integrated schools as part of a classroom ventilation self-assessment toolkit.
Please confirm your details and we will let you know before yours has been dispatched. The self-assessment toolkit will include access to an online calculator to help you identify indoor spaces which get good levels of fresh air flow, those that don’t, and help identify the right approaches to improve ventilation.
We have also ordered 5,000 portable air cleaners we expect to roll out to targeted areas within some schools in 2022 and will keep you updated on this.
If you have been approached by a supplier offering to sell CO2 monitors, air cleaners or other technologies, you can direct them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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, Worksafe has a helpful template you can use.
The COVID-19 Protection Framework contains a number of requirements and recommendations to help reduce the risk of an outbreak. However, each school has a unique community and context which will also inform your health and safety planning.
For example, schools in a community with vaccination rates below 90% or whose population is more vulnerable to severe illness, or where your student 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.
The risk assessment template has been developed to support you when considering whether any further mitigations might be introduced at each framework setting.
Plan for more disruption
If Omicron does take hold, there is very likely to be a significant impact on New Zealand’s supply chain.
Some considerations to inform your COVID-19 planning are below.
- Scale and time frame of outbreak: In some communities an Omicron outbreak may occur very quickly and infect a large proportion of people and affect those people isolating as a close contact at the same time. In other situations, there may be continuous impact on the community with rolling absences over much longer period of time.
- Mitigating key person or key service dependencies: Ensure you have a number of key service staff available, for example qualified first-aid staff and staff to oversee the contact management process or emergency management response capability.
- Backups for cleaning or other services: Have backups ready in case of illness/isolation requirements, so that minimum service standards can continue to be met.
- Readiness for localised restrictions: Tighter restrictions are still an option under the framework if public health systems are overwhelmed and/or there are extremely high case numbers locally. These restrictions will likely take effect with little notice.
Supporting children to return on site
The priority remains to have children and young people on site 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 school.
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 children, students, parents and caregivers
As noted in the 19 November bulletin, all registered schools (including private schools), all school hostels (including private hostels), and all school transport services (for all students) are prohibited from requiring proof of vaccination (either via My Vaccine Pass or other tool) as a condition of using or accessing education.
This prohibition applies to all children, students and their parents or caregivers.
This means that a person’s vaccination status should not restrict learning for children and young people. Neither should it restrict parents and caregivers from supporting their children in their learning.
In situations where events and activities occur on school grounds and where participants extend beyond staff, parents, caregivers and learners, it may be appropriate to ask for a vaccine certificate. Examples of this are fundraising fairs, concerts and other community events.
Third-party users of education facilities will also be able to require evidence of vaccination when using your premises.
When you can require vaccination
Parents and caregivers are required to be vaccinated if they are undertaking work for your school, including voluntary work, and may have contact with children or students when carrying out that work or will be present at a time when children and students are also present.
This vaccination requirement does not apply to those who are performing services remotely or who are onsite only when children and students are not present.
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 on site to support their child’s learning as unvaccinated
- ask non-essential visitors not to come on site at Red
- do not hold events and activities, including those that bring parents and caregivers on site (that is, more than 100)
- require all visitors to wear a face covering
- strongly encourage staff to wear a face covering when meeting with visitors, including parents and caregivers
- maintain the recommended physical distancing of two metres 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 (and if it is necessary to meet on site, ensure the room being used is spacious and well ventilated)
- ensure hand sanitiser is available indoors
- reiterate that anyone who is not feeling well does not come onto the school site and encourage them to seek advice about getting tested.
Education outside the classroom: Offsite options
With careful planning, education outside the classroom (EOTC) activities can go ahead at Red.
By Friday 4 February we anticipate that public health orders will be in place so that EOTC providers will be able to offer curriculum-related activities/services to a registered school that does not require all children to be vaccinated (even if require this from other users of their facilities).
This means the provider will need to meet a number of conditions, such as:
- working with a registered school to deliver curriculum-related activities
- ensuring the activity is in a defined space (solely using part or all of a setting/venue for the period the service is provided)
- ensuring staff delivering the service are vaccinated.
The provider will essentially be treated as a school premise while the EOTC activity is taking place.
Guidance is also being developed to support the EOTC provider to meet anticipated legislative requirements. We will provide you with this information as soon as it becomes available.
Misinformation, disinformation and abuse
Unfortunately, a small number of individuals are resorting to harassment and abuse of school leaders and school communities.
If you receive inappropriate contact online, you can make a non-emergency report to the police on 105. Call 111 for emergencies.
Guidance for hostels under the COVID-19 protection framework is on our website.
There is one change to the guidance from the content published prior to Christmas. That is, staff in hostels are not required to wear face coverings under the COVID-19 Protection Framework, however it is strongly recommended that they do when in close contact with other staff, boarders and visitors.
Public health officials will make decisions about how to manage the case, including whether they may need to move into managed isolation or return home to self-isolate.
Although it is unlikely any case will remain in the hostel, you will need to have a strategy in place to manage isolation while you work to agree to a plan with health officials, the boarder and their parent or caregivers.
If you’re made aware of a case associated with your hostel and haven’t received that notification from health authorities, please contact your local public health unit or your local Te Mahau office for information and support:
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 and young people 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 and young people may rise.
Parents and teachers can reassure children and young people that everyone is working together, from the Prime Minster down, 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, young people and their families. As an individual teacher you might not have all the answers but working collectively can help. Work with parents, other school staff, 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.
EAP services extended
As noted in our 2 December bulletin, we have extended the availability of the centrally funded wellbeing support services for the education workforce.
All teachers, regular relievers and support staff across kura and state and state-integrated schools 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 the EAP website.
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-19 welfare team 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 from marae-based services or support that iwi have established.
See the letter template below for further details to share with your community.
Further information is also available on the COVID-19 website:
Public health order requiring mandatory booster doses
The mandatory vaccination requirement for people working in schools and kura has been updated to require a COVID-19 booster dose.
The booster requirement applies to everyone who was affected by the 15 November 2021 and 1 January 2022 education workforce vaccination mandates – that is, anyone who works for a school or kura and who may have contact with children or students or will be present at a time when children and students are also present. This includes teachers, teacher aides, support staff, relief and casual staff, caretakers and cleaners and contractors.
You can find more information on the application of mandatory vaccinations requirements by role in this document:
The COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Amendment Order 2022 has been published and came into force at 11.59pm on Sunday 23 January.
To meet the booster dose requirements as set out in the revised 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.
- 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.
You can find more information on the both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca boosters here:
Next steps for schools and kura
Schools and kura 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 which prevents them from being vaccinated against COVID-19 are also exempt from the booster dose requirement.
However, please 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.
Rapid antigen testing
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 roll-out:
- to five to 11-year-olds so as many of our tamariki are protected from the virus as possible
- 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 testing, but we know RATs 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 RATs 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.
Teaching and learning
It is important that school and kura leaders re-assess their pandemic readiness for teaching and learning both before Term 1 begins and as the year progresses.
Preparing for staff absences in your school
Next week we will provide additional materials to support you to plan and prepare for staff absences in your school, this includes:
- a tool kit that sets out a range of options to manage situations where you experience staffing shortages
- templates to assist your school to prepare its own school-specific workforce plan, including materials to prompt thinking and prepare a school to response to a range of different scenarios.
We encourage you to work with your regional office to explore all options to keep face-to-face teaching and learning going through 2022. However, it is possible that you may have some or all students unable to learn on-site, and you should consider distance learning.
To help you assess your readiness, you can find a self-assessment tool that you can use with your teams on our Learning from Home website:
Support is available now and we will be releasing more prior to, and throughout Term 1, 2022. We will make sure you are informed when this material is released.
What's available now
- You'll find teaching and learning resources for teachers, parents and students (this includes materials you can print and use in hard copy) on our Learning from Home and Kauwhata Reo websites.
- Regionally allocated PLD to support digital teaching and learning.
- Internet connections across the country to households in need (until 30 June). Contact us to discuss this at EDA@education.govt.nz.
- Prior to Term 1, we will release additional guidance about effective teaching practice in distance learning and ways you might think about implementing this in your context. This will include more curriculum resources, guidance and tools to help you pick and choose, creating quality learning opportunities which meet the particular needs of learners not in face-to-face contexts.
- Over Term 1, we will also begin to roll out ‘spotlights’ – resources sharing some examples of innovative and excellent teaching and learning approaches to distance learning.
- Special guidance for remote schools and kura who may not be able to easily access printed materials for distance learning.
- Other supports for your immuno-compromised learners or learners who are likely to remain learning from home for an extended period of time in 2022.
- We also recognise providing distance learning is likely to carry some costs, and we understand that schools’ level of preparedness for this is likely to vary. We are looking at other options for how we can support schools with resources to help with this and should be in a position to confirm our approach before the start of Term 1.
Where do I start?
In such a changeable teaching and learning environment, we need to know now if your school or kura needs support both
(a) to remain open for face-to-face teaching and learning, and
(b) in the event you are required to do distance learning.
Please get in contact with your regional office as soon as possible if you need help preparing for teaching and learning in 2022.
Planning checklist: If you answer ‘no’ to any of the questions in the checklist you may need to update your plans or let your regional office know what support you need.
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.
Vaccine mandate: Relief funding
Some schools and kura have needed to work through employment processes with staff who have not met the vaccine mandate requirements.
We will be providing support to schools for the cost of backfilling unvaccinated teachers and staff during their notice period.
We are currently developing an application process and will provide details on how to apply for this support in February through a bulletin.