Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Principal says virus has ‘without a doubt’ spread within school

An intermediate principal says Omicron has spread between her students despite the school’s best efforts, with half of student Covid cases clustered in groups of close friends.

Henderson Intermediate principal Wendy Esera shut the school down two weeks ago as cases were shooting up.

While they were at home she tasked her teachers with analysing all the Covid cases in their classes.

They found there were 105 cases among the school’s 720 students.

Of those, 53 were clustered in groups of close friends.

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Esera said it was hard to know for certain whether some of them could have caught it from each other outside of school – but there were definite instances where children with no positive household members, who had been nowhere but school, had brought it home.

Some staff had also “absolutely” caught Covid from their students.

“We’ve had staff who had nobody in their home at all. And then suddenly, there are six [positive] kids in the class with us – and then … the teacher by Saturday has also tested positive.”

Esera emphasised the students weren’t at fault.

“Children are very social creatures … it’s the sheer nature of children. Children touch one another. Children hug each other, children sit close and lean up against each other and, when they’re outside, they rough and tumble with each other.”

Those were the occasions when kids also would be laughing loudly or shouting. They might also have to take their mask off at times, such as when getting changed for PE.

The school had been doing “all the right things”, Esera said.

“We had the staggered break times. We’ve got all the kids wearing masks … we’ve had all the windows open, the doors.”

But with students back this week, they’ve tightened measures further.

Specialist classes like food tech have been paused to keep bubbles intact. Furniture in modern learning environments has been separated, and duty teachers are strictly policing children’s mask wearing when they’re outside with friends.

“Also I’m just really stressing the message with parents. Please don’t send your children to school if they are unwell.”

Year 7 and 8 students are at school on alternate days this week but will return full time next week as cases have dropped substantially.

Esera said she was also struck by the rates of Covid among non-boosted staff. Out of 61 staff, just eight were not boosted – and seven of those had caught Covid. Some of those seven were in the same class as a fully-boosted staff member who had avoided infection.

65,000 cases reported in schools, early learning centres

Henderson Intermediate is among the 87 per cent of Auckland schools that are currently dealing with at least one Covid case.

Across the whole country, schools and early learning services notified the Ministry of Education of 64,634 cases in the last 10 days, according to a snapshot of cases from 10.30am today.

Seventy-seven per cent of schools and 46 per cent of ECEs nationwide had notified at least one case in that period.

However the number in the city has fallen in recent days. In the past two days there were 1617 new cases in Auckland schools and ECEs – half the number (3240) that were notified in the same period a week ago.

In a statement accompanying today’s figures, the Ministry of Education’s head of operations Sean Teddy said schools and early learning services had layers of prevention in place to protect teachers, staff and children from Covid.

“Public health advice has remained consistent throughout the Covid-19 response that school/kura environments are a lower risk for transmission,” he said.

“We know that the more layers of protection in place (e.g., good hygiene practices, handwashing, ventilation, cleaning and disinfecting high touch areas regularly etc.), the harder it is for the virus to be transmitted.”

But Teddy said where there were cases in the community there would also be cases in schools.

“Where that does occur, schools/kura are following guidance from Health and the Ministry of Education and supporting those cases to stay at home.”

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