Covid 19 coronavirus: Papatoetoe High School willing to ‘pay the price’ to get rest of NZ open again

Papatoetoe High School says it is willing to “pay the price” of staying closed until Monday so the rest of the country can move to less restricted Covid-19 alert levels.

Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed today three members of a second household connected with the high school have been found to have coronavirus, in addition to the first student and her parents who tested positive last weekend.

The new cases are a Year 9 classmate of the first case, the classmate’s brother – who is in Year 12 at the same school – and one other member of their household.

The other two people in their household tested negative.

He said the two new students who tested positive for the virus, “Cases D and E”, did not show any symptoms of illness when they were tested on Monday, and there was therefore a lower risk they might pass the virus on to others.

“Cases D and E were not at school during their infectious period,” he said.

“However, to provide all possible reassurance, the high school will remain closed for the rest of this week and will reopen on Monday.

“All students and staff will be expected to have a negative test result before returning to school, and numbers have already done so.”

School principal Vaughan Couillault said he has given all names on the school roll to the Ministry of Health and is waiting for the ministry to tell him which students have not been tested by Monday.

Asked whether he was happy with that arrangement, he said: “Hell, yeah, because the rest of the country is going down alert levels! If that’s the price we pay to get the economy back and rolling again, hell, we’ll pay it!”

Auckland Secondary Schools Principals Association president Steve Hargreaves said other Auckland schools would be “very pleased to go back to school” immediately, although he expects a mixed response from parents.

“The vast majority will be pleased and will rush back, and there will be a section of our community that will be a bit more hesitant for these two days [Thursday and Friday],” he said.

“That’s understandable, and we will make work available for those students to do at home.”

Hargreaves said the level 2 rules meant that all Auckland schools except Papatoetoe High could operate normally as long as they are careful about hygiene.

“We’ll put in place the hygiene regime that we had when we were in alert level 2 last year – that is sanitising equipment, hand sanitiser in every classroom block, stay away if you’re unwell,” he said.

Schools are exempted from the broader level 2 limit of 100 people in social gatherings, but Hargreaves said his school, Macleans College, would not hold assemblies this week to be safe.

Ministry of Education head Iona Holsted has advised schools to tell parents that “the huge volume of tests completed in the last few days has given confidence that if any further cases arise, they will likely be closely linked to these existing cases.”

“It’s been a great effort from our school and wider community, health workers, scientists, and technicians and the thousands of people who have been tested across New Zealand,” she has advised schools to tell their families.

“We therefore look forward to welcoming all of you back onsite tomorrow.”

She said alert level 2 still has some restrictions for schools – “the main one being that children should be not breathing on or touching each other, as much as practicable”.

Holsted said the ministry has had several enquiries about whether school students who have been in managed isolation can return to school immediately or whether they should stay at home for a further period.

“We can confirm there is no requirement for people leaving managed isolation to isolate at home for a further week,” she said.

“They will have received at least two negative tests for Covid-19 prior to their departure and can therefore return to work and school.”

“They receive a letter on their departure recommending they don’t attend large gatherings for the next week or so (e.g. large sports events or concerts).

“However, this request does not apply to school or early learning settings. A school or early learning service, like other workplaces, is not considered a gathering. There are good systems in place in these environments to reduce the risk of transmission of illness, including Covid-19 (e.g. good cleaning and contact tracing practices).”

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