Children in preschools and childcare ‘didn’t drive’ Delta spread

Children in preschools and childcare ‘didn’t drive’ Delta spread

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Children attending early learning centres and kindergartens do not drive the transmission of COVID-19 through the community, even though the Delta variant is five times more infectious among the young than previous strains.

Analysis of coronavirus cases in schools and early learning centres by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute has found the Delta variant has mostly spread from adult to adult, less frequently from adult to child and is only rarely transmitted between children.

Prep students Aeyana, 6, and Nancy, 5, on their first day back at Resurrection Catholic Primary School in Kings Park on Monday. Credit:Penny Stephens

The institute’s finding is based on analysis of COVID-19 cases in 51 schools and early learning centres in NSW between June 16 and July 31, a period when daily infections surged from as few as one a day to about 200.

Childcare remained open during all of NSW’s lockdown, while schools switched to remote learning for part of the period analysed. Cases in childcare settings have declined in recent weeks.

The institute’s Professor Fiona Russell said the findings were good news for Victorians as the state’s children progressively return to face-to-face learning.

“There have been outbreaks in schools and early learning, and we expect them to increase … but as we open up everything, preschools and early childhood centres are probably contributing very little to broader community transmission and numbers,” she said.

Since the Delta variant reached Victoria, the infection rate among children has soared, with under-18s making up 30 per cent of all COVID-19 cases between May 1 and September 5, the analysis found.

This is approximately double the infection rate of 2020 and the first half of this year. The absence of a vaccine for under-12s and the growing vaccination rate among adults has pushed child infection rates higher.

The institute’s Margie Danchin said it was critical that schools and early learning centres immediately put in place mitigation measures such as ventilation and vaccination to reduce the risk of transmission into the community.

“It’s really important that as well as vaccinating teachers, early learning educators and school staff, parents and carers do their best to protect their children and book their vaccinations urgently, especially parents or carers of children who are among the first to start back at school such as VCE students,” Associate Professor Danchin said.

Paediatrician Margie Danchin says it is critical for parents and teachers to get vacinated as soon as possible to back up school COVID-safety measures such as increased ventilation. Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

New data reveals that almost 1400 Victorian school staff are yet to confirm they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, putting them in breach of the Chief Health Officer’s mandate.

More than 98 per cent of school staff in Victoria have had at least one dose, but the figures indicate a small fraction are holding out.

In total, 1221 staff are yet to produce evidence that they have been vaccinated and a further 166 employees have confirmed that they have not been vaccinated and have not made a booking for a jab, Victorian government data shows.

All education workers were required to have had a first dose by October 18 or a booking by October 25, and to be double-vaccinated by November 29, unless they have a medical exemption.

COVID-19 cases continue to force the temporary closure of dozens of schools and early learning centres each day in Victoria, even as the state advances its phased return to face-to-face learning.

All year levels at all schools are due back for the first time on November 5.

New protocols mean schools can reopen within as little as 24 hours if cleared by the Department of Health, although some have been unable to do so because too many staff are in isolation. Vaccinated students no longer have to isolate for 14 days, but can return to school after a negative day-six test, and family members of primary close contacts no longer have to isolate at all.

Tina King, acting president of the Australian Principals Federation, said a small proportion of families were keeping preps at home because of Victoria’s high COVID-19 case numbers.

“At the back of our minds we’re dealing with fear and apprehension,” Ms King said.

But she predicted those students would return this month as the state hit key vaccination targets.

Ms King said most preps barrelled through school gates on Monday and schools had newfound confidence too.

“It’s like a grey cloud has lifted,” Ms King said. “There’s not that fear of going back to lockdown.

Resurrection prep student Lynaki, 6, reads to teacher Sophie Burke on Monday.Credit:Penny Stephens

“They now know [COVID cases] will be dealt with at a local level, so they can bounce back after a short period of isolation.”

When Sophie Burke’s prep students talk about COVID-19, they don’t raise concerns about catching it themselves. They want to know when disruption from the pandemic will end.

“I wish I knew the answer,” Ms Burke, a foundation teacher at Resurrection Primary School in Kings Park, said.

“I don’t think they’re worried. They’re just a bit confused about when it will end and why it happened.

“In the classroom we talk about it a lot; helping them understand why we’ve provided them with masks, why we’re all wearing masks.”

After almost a term of remote learning during Victoria’s latest COVID-19 wave, all 75 preps returned to the Catholic school in Melbourne’s outer north-west this week.

“I think the parents were just as excited as the kids to come back,” Ms Burke said.

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