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More than 20,000 NSW students caught COVID in first two weeks of school

More than 20,000 NSW school children have tested positive for COVID-19 in the first two weeks of the school year and the number of cases among students is rising rapidly, with an almost 50 per cent increase between week one and week two.

Data released by the NSW Department of Education showed 8,109 students during the first week back tested positive in the classroom.

By the end of the second week, another 12,056 students had been infected.

The figures are markedly different from the “preliminary data” announced by NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell as students arrived for the final day of week one.

“In terms of the number of students we’ve been able to pick up across the systems over the last week, 2,417 students have reported a positive case,” she said.

On February 4 Sarah Mitchell said she could not have wished for a better return to school.(ABC News: Timothy Swanston)

She said no school had had to close due to COVID-19 during the first week back and those infected had isolated at home.

“I really couldn’t have wished for a better start to the school year,” she said.

Some parents have expressed concern about the spread of COVID-19 in the classroom.

Elaine, who did not want her last name published, has two primary-school-aged children but has decided to keep them at home until they are fully vaccinated.

But she said not every parent had the option to do this.

She said a lack of detail on how many cases were being detected and what strain of the virus was circulating had caused anxiety for her family.

“When you have a situation lacking transparency, it means you’re not able to assess risk,” she said.

“You’re just not able to make any sort of judgement.”

a row of school bags hanging on hooks outside a classroom
Some parents have expressed concern about the spread of COVID-19 in the classroom.(ABC News)

Elaine said she received reports from her children’s school informing parents of COVID-19 exposures but because they were “written vaguely” for privacy reasons, they often raised more questions.

Sydney teacher Merilyn, who did not want her last name published, said her independent school had not been forthcoming with information and the situation was “unnerving”.

“We don’t hear much about what’s going on,” she said.

“They send advice out to parents [about cases] but it’s not actually information coming to staff.”

She said she was doubtful that parents were being diligent with testing children multiple times a week.

Boys sitting a school exam.
Some parents and teachers are concerned about a lack of information. (ABC News: Nicole Chettle)

Epidemiologist Angela Webster said it was understandable that parents were concerned about COVID-19 in schools, but children would be vulnerable inside or outside the classroom.

“The case burden was with [children] before school went back and after school went back.”

a woman looking and smiling
Professor Webster says it os understandable some parents are concerned. (Supplied)

Professor Webster said the virus was “ripping through” the unvaccinated population, in which young children are over-represented.

Under the NSW return-to-school plan, students and staff are required to take two rapid antigen tests each week for the first four weeks of term one.

Mask wearing is mandatory for teachers and secondary students and highly recommended for pupils in year 3 and above in primary school.

COVID-safe plans are required for excursions and other activities such as music, sports and assembly.

The government said it was still considering whether to continue the twice-weekly rapid antigen tests after four week and it had been surveying parents.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet had strongly advocated for the reopening of schools and previously declared the state was “leading the way” in a safe return to class.

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