Tertiary and international COVID-19 bulletin
22 February 2022
Tertiary and international COVID-19 bulletin
COVID-19 Protection Framework settings
All of New Zealand is at Red.
Refinements to the case and contact management
Following your feedback on case and contact management, we have been working with the Ministry of Health to identify improvements for providers, while ensuring that the system continues to support our wider public health response.
Under Phase 2 of our Omicron response, and as case numbers increase, there is likely to be significant pressure on contact tracing systems.
Tertiary education providers should take a pragmatic approach to contact tracing, by prioritising:
- identification of confirmed cases and their close contacts and communicating directly with these individuals to ensure they are self-isolating (as required) and are receiving the support and guidance they need to do so safely. Uploading contact tracing upload tool (CTUT) spreadsheets is no longer required, though providers should still maintain their own records of cases and contacts (as these may be requested later)
- tracing of close contacts in the highest-risk scenarios, for example where a case may not have been wearing a mask and has had extended close contact with others (for example, in a dining hall).
Changes to how close contacts are defined
As noted in our 17 February bulletin, the Ministry of Health has been considering refinements to their risk matrix for how contacts of a confirmed case should be categorised (that is, as either close or casual contacts).
The Ministry of Health has now confirmed that wearing a mask can mitigate the risk of being a close contact in a range of scenarios, including beyond the previous two-hour time limit for mask use.
This means that in many situations, if the case was wearing a properly fitted three layered masks (for example, the blue medical masks), then people they came in contact with should generally not be considered close contacts, regardless of their duration of interaction, how close together they were, the size of room, or the room’s ventilation.
In some situations however, for example where the case was forcefully expelling air/secretions such as sneezing, those nearby the case may still be considered close contacts despite the case wearing a mask.
Compliance with mask use is key to this change in categorisation, and regular mask breaks outside for students (and staff) are still important.
Providers should refer to the case and contact management tertiary toolkit and case categorisation table which has been updated to reflect these refinements.
This change in how close contacts are defined is intended to prioritise the most at risk for contact tracing purposes when there are high numbers of new cases. Maintaining space between students and staff, ensuring good ventilation, moving to shorter lectures (for example) can still reduce the risk of transmission for those that are no longer deemed close contacts. Providers should therefore continue with these precautionary measures.
Close contact exemption scheme: Application within tertiary accommodation providers
Critical workers who are a close contact of a case (and are therefore required to self-isolate) may be able to return to work under the close contact exemption scheme or using a 'bubble of one' (see following item).
For critical services, vaccinated and asymptomatic workers who return a negative rapid antigen test (RAT) daily may return to work, so long as strict health measures are in place. Not all staff working in the education setting are classified as critical service workers.
However, some staff delivering onsite services at tertiary accommodation would be considered critical as they are providing residents with their ‘principal accommodation’ or are involved in the ‘distribution and sale of basic food’.
Tertiary accommodation providers need to register through the close contact exemption scheme registration portal, which can be found on the COVID-19 Government information for businesses website. It is an automated system, and while there is no formal approval process, agencies are running spot check of registrations to ensure the system is being used appropriately.
It should be noted that registering for the scheme does not mean you will be given a supply of RATs. For most critical services, the Ministry of Health supply of RATs is made available only when a worker needs to use the scheme (not in advance), and only for the number of tests needed to cover the isolation period.
Tertiary accommodation providers wishing to undertake general surveillance testing will need to source RATs privately.
If there is an alternative option for delivering critical services, such as another staff member taking over the onsite duties, then this may be preferable as RATs are only around 80% accurate (and only if they are administered correctly), so close contacts who return to work after providing a negative RAT could still potentially be spreading COVID-19 around the facility.
Close contacts may return to work as a ‘bubble of one’ in some situations
'Bubble of one' allows someone who is a close contact (critical service or not) to return to work, if they:
- are vaccinated,
- do not have any symptoms (asymptomatic)
- are able to maintain an individual ‘bubble of one’ while at work (whether indoors or outdoors).
The employer or worker does not need to register to use ‘bubble of one’, nor does the worker need to test daily. The tertiary provider must have systems and processes in place to support these ‘bubbles of one’ and the worker must comply with them.
In the tertiary setting, a ‘bubble of one’ might be an individual researcher who needs to use an onsite laboratory. They may do so (if vaccinated and asymptomatic), if they:
- are able to use the space only while no others present in that space,
- travel solo or with a household member, to, from and around work or between jobs
- eat alone in a well-ventilated space, outdoors where possible
- use a dedicated bathroom (if this is not possible, no others should be present in the bathroom while the worker is using it).
A complete set of requirements for maintaining a ‘bubble of one’ can be found on the Business NZ website.
Be prepared for COVID-19
Whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, everyone should prepare for what they need to do if they get COVID-19.
The Unite against COVID-19 website has resources to help you.
Travelling and COVID-19
While vaccination is highly effective, it is still possible to get COVID-19.
You may get it while you are away from home, even if you are following the rules. You should prepare for what you may need to do if this happens.
Email address for queries
All tertiary and international COVID-19 related queries can be emailed to us through our central mailbox COVID19.TertiaryandInternational@education.govt.nz.