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Covid-19 Omicron: Schools reopening to mask mandates, ventilation issues

Omicron is the new variant of Covid-19, first detected in South Africa in November 2021. Video / NZ Herald

By Tom Kitchen from RNZ

Many schools and quora across the country will start again for the year today, but it won’t be like anything they’ve encountered before.

Staff wrestle with how to enforce mask mandates and deal with a “tsunami of information” about how to deal with Omicron’s encroachment into society.

Last week, in the midst of the day, kids were playing in local playgrounds in parks across the country.

This week, they will be restricted to the classroom and the school grounds – all children in Year 4 and above are required to wear masks indoors.

Children he spoke to at Anderson Park in Napier had mixed opinions.

“Not good,” Hayden said, “because the mask always makes me hot and my face always sweats.”

“If it’s hot, I don’t want to wear it, but if it’s cold, it’s all good, it keeps my face warm,” Logan said.

Some other kids said it was good because it “protects everyone”.

For children age 3 and under, the Department of Health said wearing masks is encouraged, but not required.

“The age of children in this category means that there are significant compliance challenges when wearing a mask for an extended period of time,” a department spokesperson said.

“We ask parents to educate their children about wearing masks to encourage practice at school.

“It is also important to note that a range of practices are encouraged to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in schools.

“Schools are being asked to open windows, doors and outlets to support the flow of fresh air, follow good hygiene practices, and make sure parents keep their children home away from school and get them tested if they have any symptoms that could be of Covid-19.”

Pat Newman, Principal of Hura Hora School in Whangarei, was trying to get around the mask mandate.

“Quite frankly,” he said, “that’s not doable.”

He said that if a child’s parents did not want to wear a mask, teachers were not allowed to insist on wearing it.

Timely communication problem

Jason Williams is the principal of Henry Hill School in Napier. It is a decimal school, predominantly Maori primary.

Although he was aware that MOE personnel were likely working under the pump, the communications did not come at good times.

“Right now some of the communication is coming from the Ministry of Education, I think, what you might call after hours. We talk a lot about luxury and hauora, and it’s not best to get the email at 7 or 8 at night and then your mind is back on the job. school to work.

Invercargill has been shielded from the Covid-19 storm in the North, especially the Auckland experience.

Mike Newell, principal of James Hargest College, said his 1,800-plus students would do their best with masks, but that it would be a challenge.

“I really feel for my teachers, being in the classroom can be difficult enough, but you’ll probably be talking through masks and things like that. It’s also going to be challenging for the students, in terms of some means of communication.”

NZEI Education Consortium President Liam Rutherford said some questions remained unanswered for many of its members.

“They tend to get into some nitty-gritty about using a mask – when, where and who needs to wear it – as well as things like proper ventilation and how well opening doors and windows works versus not doing so.”

New Zealand Presidents’ Association Sherry Taylor-Patel acknowledged that it was a difficult and anxious time.

“We’ve asked the department to ask senior advisors across the country to call the managers and ask if there’s anything they need to know so they can actually help them navigate this massive tsunami of information.”

In a statement, the Ministry of Education hautū (Leader) Operations and Integration/Te Pae Aronui Sean Teddy said that schools and kura have been updated through school bulletin emails.

“We aim to have the flyers available by 4pm, but sometimes it takes an hour or two more to produce. It’s important that we make sure our advice is accurate and complies with relevant health guidelines, legislation and health orders.”

He said regional staff are following up with school leaders to answer questions and determine the support they need.

“We understand that it is difficult for school and quora leaders to navigate the changes, updated guidance and advice needed to support and protect students, staff, and keep their communities informed. They are doing an amazing job.”

urgency to vaccinate

Sandy Hastings, chair of the Association of Primary School Principals in Canterbury, said it was imperative that more children be vaccinated.

Currently, 33 percent of eligible people between the ages of 5 and 11 have had their first Covid-19 vaccine.

However, only 18 percent of eligible Māori and 23 percent of eligible Pacifica Tamariki residents received the vaccination dose.

Hastings said schools are taking action to beat the omicron virus.

At her school, Beckenham Te Kura o Pūroto, this meant that some meetings with parents remained online.

“We can all see what the worst-case scenario might look like and do everything we can to avoid it,” Hastings said.

Additional coverage by Soumya Bhamidipati

Corona virus disease

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