Parents of students at Curl Curl North Public School say there is significant confusion and conflicting health advice over COVID cases at the school which occurred within a few days of returning last week.
The criticism is not aimed at the school itself – nor those with the infection – but rather conflicting communication from state departments as parents try to establish whether they
or their children are close contacts and what the requirements are.
One local mum, Dani Jordan, had her six-year-old son return to school last week only to learn there was a positive case in the first three days. Her son, along with all three kindy classes, have been deemed close contacts, Dani said, and have been instructed to test and isolate for 14 days. We are aware that at least one other student has since contracted the virus.
One of the main areas of confusion rests with the 14 day isolation period.
“As he is of an age not able to self-isolate away from others, myself and our other son (aged 4) will be doing the 14 day isolation with him. My husband has not returned to the house after receiving this news and will be couch-surfing so that he can still work to maintain our businesses. I am also studying full time, as well as working part-time for our businesses,” Dani said.
“14 days isolation despite all eligible household members being fully vaccinated- we are not suggesting at all that no isolation is required, but the 14 day isolation is not in line with any of the other policies, and it’s not in line with what other countries such as the UK are doing. It also feels very out of line with the pending 1 November change to fully vaccinated returned travellers not having to quarantine, and that also applies to their dependent children who are too young to have an approved vaccine.”
But she and other parents are also not clear on whether she definitely has to isolate the full period.
Dani has since been directed to the NSW Health website which states vaccinated people living with isolating children do not have to isolate the full period but rather “avoid high risk settings”.
Another mum we spoke to agreed parents were receiving mixed messages from Health. “A few parents phoned the hotline and had been told isolating adults of close contact unvaccinated kids can be free after seven days if they test negative.”
We tried to settle the confusion, but ended up in the same muddle.
A NSW Health Ministry isolation brochure we were sent says “All people in your home are considered close contacts and must self-isolate for up to 14 days, depending on vaccination status.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Education directs parents to an FAQ – from Health – which emphatically states all members of the household must isolate for the full two week period regardless of vaccination status.
Then there is the third tier of advice, mentioned above, which is on the NSW Health website: “If you live with a person who you cannot keep separated from (e.g a child or carer where alternative arrangements cannot be made [and] they are fully vaccinated – they do not need to self-isolate with you, but they must not attend high risk settings.”
So, parents are left wondering: Do we just avoid high risk settings, if we are vaccinated should we isolate for one week, or do we have to isolate for the full two week period?
We continue to await NSW Health’s response to this question. We have followed up again this morning.
Regardless, the rocky start has left many isolating families nervous to return their children after the two weeks is over, but it is now mandatory to return to the classroom.
Dani continued: “Given we have seen such a high number of classes locked in after just the first few days of school returning, it gives us very little confidence that school is a safe place to send our children, yet we are legally obligated to send them. A number of other children have since tested positive in my son’s class,” she said.
A Department of Education spokesperson said the Department’s goal is that no school returns to extended learning from home; schools are “as COVID safe as possible,” she said.
“[We are] using mandatory vaccinations, ventilation and further on school site measures like mask-wearing and cohorting.”
“Schools are safe for students and the best place for them to learn is in the classroom, this has been balanced with the risk of COVID still circulating in the community.
Further information about the NSW Department of Education response to COVID-19 is available on Education’s website.