As another two schools in NSW closed on Monday after three students tested positive to COVID-19, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard described the closures as what’s “likely to be the new norm”.
Now, many parents’ concerns are growing over the coronavirus outbreak and about whether to send their children to school.
Mother-of-two Juliette Cavendish admitted she’s been been worried about the risk that her 13-year-old daughter may face at her high school in Victoria.
She critiqued Australians “still being encouraged to attend large scale festivals”, while not being given clearer directions on sending kids to school.
“I do know that many parents are about to take their children out as a precautionary measure, trusting their own research, as the Australian messages have been convoluted at best,” Mrs Cavendish told HuffPost Australia.
“I met with some parents today and was surprised and alarmed at the sense of utter confusion out there. Many parents are feeling extremely overwhelmed and don’t know what to do. They need a strong voice that has some leadership. We need one message that is clear, concise, based in science that protects our elderly and vulnerable, even if that message means closing our schools immediately.”
Melbourne-based general practitioner, Dr Preeya Alexander, said parents shouldn’t be worried about their children attending school unless they exhibit symptoms, or if the school notifies them of a confirmed risk.
“Honestly, I can say don’t panic but it doesn’t help, so instead I will say that our daughter is still attending ELC (early learning centre) and will continue to,” the mother-of-two, who is also known as The Wholesome Doctor, told HuffPost Australia.
“If the school tells you they are concerned and have a positive COVID-19 case then they will take appropriate action. In the meantime, as a GP I think our main role for children right now is to reassure and remain calm given some of the hysteria we are seeing.”
On Monday NSW Department of Education secretary Mark Scott told media that if certain symptoms are displayed by students, “we don’t want those children at school”.
“The advice we heard from New South Wales Health has been quite clear. If your child has a heavy cold, a sore throat, a cough, has flu-like symptoms or is running a fever, we don’t want those children at school,” he said in a press conference.
“If your child is presenting with symptoms you wouldn’t want someone to have if they were sitting next to you on the bus, we don’t want those kids in our classrooms at the moment. The advice to schools, if a child does present with a heavy cold, sore throat, cough, fever or flu-like symptoms, we’ll be contacting parents to come and collect their children.”
According to Dr Alexander, if parents notice such symptoms, the key is to “not panic”, and then seek out medical attention while bearing in mind not to put others at risk.
“Speak to their GP or one of the many health lines currently set up for patients to contact,” she said.
“Please call ahead if you are seeing your doctor and don’t just turn up to the waiting room because you put many others at risk. Warn the clinic so they can take action or redirect you if needed. If you are worried your child is seriously unwell then attend the emergency department.”
Dr Alexander stressed that “children, like the rest of the population, are at risk of contracting COVID-19”, though younger ones “might be at slightly increased risk” because of hand hygiene.
“With our three-year-old daughter, we are encouraging hand washing constantly before meals and after being outside the home. Making hand washing a regular part of life is a key way to prevent COVID-19.
“Carrying some hand sanitiser when you’re out and about and encouraging kids to have clean hands even when outside the home is useful. Also heavily educating children on protecting others from their germs so covering mouths and noses when coughing and sneezing.
“Getting kids to practice the elbow sneeze is a good step – it means the respiratory droplets get caught in the elbow and even if they don’t wash their hands afterwards they have still protected others.”
‘Not A Joking Matter’
On Monday NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard warned of the seriousness of the virus, saying it’s “not a joking matter” on the school grounds.
“Can I also express to the parents and to young people that this particular virus impacts generally young people in a very, very light way,” he told media.
“The symptoms are not profound and they might see it as simply being a light cold. But it’s not a joking matter. It is not a light hearted matter, and I have heard of students thinking it’s a joke. And they can perhaps cough and splutter on each other or threaten to cough or splutter on each other.
“The message here, to all the kids in the schools across the state, this is not a joke, this is quite serious, whilst you may be lucky enough to be in a group that’s unlikely to have a serious consequence, your mums, your dads, your grand parents, aunties and uncles may be in a different position. Take it seriously, kids, it’s a serious issue.”
While some parents are concerned about sending their children to school, others, like Sydney parent David McEwen, believe there’s different issues that should be prioritised by the government, one being climate change off the back of the recent bushfire crisis.
“Based on what I’ve read, I am relatively calm on behalf of my children, neither of whom have preconditions that would raise their risks,” said McEwen, who has one son in primary school and another in high school.
“On the other hand there may be an impact to their learning as a result of school closures and associated hassles for working parents in terms of arranging alternate care.”
On Monday Epping Boys High School reopened after it was confirmed on Friday that a 16-year-old student had contracted COVID-19.
The NSW Department Of Education’s Mark Scott said students were back at school this week, except for pupils and teachers who had been in contact with the infected student. In order to maintain learning, he said the school was “providing the students with school work using the IT systems that operate from the school”.
St Patrick’s Marist College Dundas in the city’s northwest was shut down on Monday after two year-10 students were diagnosed with coronavirus. The 14-year-old boy and 15-year-old girl, tested positive, along with their fathers, both in their 50s.
“These cases were found as part of the investigation of an ongoing cluster associated with Defence personnel and links to the Dorothy Henderson Aged Care Facility and Ryde Hospital,” said NSW Health on Monday.
Willoughby Girls High School in north Sydney also closed from Monday after a year-7 pupil tested positive. The 12-year-old’s mother has not travelled overseas.
Both schools will be closed on Tuesday as well.
There are 80 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia, and three people have died.
A former passenger on the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined off Japan for coronavirus (COVID-19) died in a hospital in Perth earlier this month.