Response protocols for COVID-19 cases

Last updated 5 pm 15 October 2021

A report by the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance into the transmission of COVID-19 within NSW schools has found the spread of COVID-19 within NSW Schools has been very limited. Access the full COVID-19 in schools report.

Where there is a case of COVID-19 in the school community, the department has established systems and protocols with NSW Health to manage and respond accordingly to keep our staff and students safe.

Quick guide for parents and carers

NSW Health will advise your school or early education centre if there is a COVID-19 positive case on a day that your child attended and in turn they will let you know if your child has been named as a close or casual contact.

If your child has COVID-19 symptoms

If you or your child has any COVID-19 symptoms get tested as soon as possible and self-isolate until you receive a negative result. Common symptoms include fever, headache, cough, sore throat, difficulty breathing, runny nose or fatigue.

You must travel by private transport to be tested and wear a face mask. This applies even if you or your child is fully vaccinated.

Self-isolation rules are different depending on your circumstances. While it is likely that older children can isolate by themselves younger children may need their parent or carer to co-isolate with them.

If your test is positive you will be contacted by SMS by NSW Health and asked to follow their advice for confirmed cases.

If your child is a close contact

If your child is fully vaccinated and has returned their negative day 6 test, they will generally be able to return to on-site learning after leaving isolation after day 7. Your child will still be required to test on day 12 and should continue to monitor for symptoms during this time and only return to their school or early childhood service if well.

If your child is unvaccinated, they can return to their school or early childhood service after they have received their negative day 12 test result and finished their full isolation period.

Please review NSW Health’s full close contact information.

If your child is a casual contact

Your child can return to their school or early childhood service when they leave isolation after receiving their first negative COVID-19 test. All casual contacts need to follow the advice in the factsheets, attend for a day 6 test and only return to school if well.

Please review NSW Health’s full casual contact information.

If your child is positive for COVID-19

Your child can return to their school or early childhood service once they have completed their isolation, have been medically cleared and have been provided with a medical clearance notice by a medical practitioner or a registered nurse. Your child should only return to on-site learning if well and not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms.

For further information on release from isolation, please review NSW Health’s release and recovery from COVID-19 information or review the frequently asked questions on this page.

Resources to answer parent and carer questions

NSW Health has prepared a range of factsheets to answer questions about self-isolation and what to do if you, or your child, is named as a close or casual contact.

Response protocols for confirmed cases of COVID-19

The department has protocols in place where it is notified by NSW Health when there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a school-age student, staff member or a member of the school community who has been on school grounds during their infectious period. In addition, schools and workplaces are required to notify confirmed cases of COVID-19 to the department’s internal incident reporting hotline where the person has been on school grounds or involved in any school activities within the previous 3 weeks.

Where the person has not been on school grounds within the previous 3 weeks, there is no requirement to report these cases unless additional support and advice is required.

All confirmed cases are immediately assessed by the department and NSW Health to determine whether the student, staff or school community member has been infectious while at school, and to determine the appropriate course of action required to minimise the risk to the wider community.

Key actions include:

  • contact tracing to identify all close contacts to a confirmed case – in some instances, this may require making the school non-operational while the contact tracing process is completed
  • communication with parents advising them whether their child has been in contact with a confirmed case
  • thorough cleaning of the school site to ensure the environment is clean and safe prior to the school resuming onsite learning.

Contact tracing

Parents will be notified by the school in writing if their child has been in contact with someone who has tested positive to COVID-19 while at school. Students who are identified as close contacts will be required to remain in home isolation and not return to school until the end of their isolation period. In this situation, the school will arrange for the student to receive their learning programs at home.

Students who are identified as casual contacts will be required to have a negative COVID-19 test prior to returning to school. All families will receive a formal letter from the school to advise what to do if they have been at school on a day when the confirmed case was considered to be infectious.

School operations

Parents and carers will be notified if a decision is made to make the school non-operational for on-site learning to enable contact tracing and/or cleaning process to take place. Information about the operational status of the school will be disseminated using the school's information channels, including the School Updates app, Facebook page and the department’s website.

During this period, educational material will be made available through the department learning from home hub to enable students to continue learning at home.

Parents and students will be notified by the department when the school is ready to resume on-site learning.

Safety and hygiene

The department is continuing to work closely with NSW Health and other relevant agencies to ensure the best possible precautions are in place to protect students and staff in our public schools.

Schools have comprehensive infection control and first aid arrangements in place and are well practised in implementing practical strategies and standard precautions to prevent the spread of disease in our schools.

Good personal hygiene, including regular hand washing, cleaning and disinfecting and the use of personal protective equipment are vigorously applied across all schools.

Cleaning

All schools have COVID-safe plans and are taking precautions to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission on-site. This includes enhanced cleaning 2 times a day in all schools in line with the latest advice from NSW Health and SafeWork Australia.

Where there is a confirmed case of COVID-19, cleaning will be carried out at the school site in line with cleaning protocols agreed with NSW Health.

Further information

Find further information about the department’s response to COVID-19.

Frequently asked questions for parents and carers

We undertake contact tracing in schools like all other venues. What action we take will depend on the circumstances and how many people that person has been in contact with, whether that was indoors or outdoors, and other factors such as whether they were vaccinated and wearing masks. That might mean we need a whole class or cohort to self-isolate, or it might mean we need to make the school non-operational for a period of time while we conduct contract tracing and cleaning while staff and students self-isolate. 

No doubt we will see people who have been at school while infectious, as we have seen throughout this pandemic. We have got to remember all the medical advice suggests that transmission among children is lower than among adults, and that when children do catch COVID they generally have only very mild symptoms. Depending on the circumstances of an outbreak in a school, we will see some schools need to close and staff/students self-isolate. But we have been working with NSW Health to reduce the circumstances for when that happens, based on our other COVID-safe measures such as vaccination of the entire school workforce, physical distancing in schools and reduced mingling of students, and the wearing of masks in schools. 

Students who are unable to return to on-site learning because they are self-isolating following NSW Health advice will be supported by their school to temporarily learn from home until they are able to return to on-site learning. Your child's school may use the Learning from home resources to support your child during their brief learning from home period.   

The best learning environment for students is in the classroom. Students are expected to attend school from their designated return to school dates. If a student has not returned to school, they will be marked absent. You should work with your school to develop a plan to return to school.  

If you choose not to return your child to on-site learning you will be responsible for supporting your child’s learning while they are not at school. Limited resources will be available that families can access during Term 4.  

You will need to co-isolate with them for their full isolation period. It is likely that older children can isolate by themselves, but parents will need to make this assessment based on the individual needs of their child.   

If other members of your household cannot self-isolate away from you (e.g. single parent households with young children), you will all need to co-isolate together. You should keep the close contact away from the rest of your household as much as you can.    

Any people co-isolating with the close contact (including children) will need to remain in isolation for the close contacts full isolation period and attend for testing when they do. This also applies when the parent is the close contact and is unable to self-isolate away from their children.

Refer to NSW Health's self-isolation guidelines.

Not all age groups can use masks effectively and it may not be safe for all children. Babies and toddlers should never wear a mask, as it can be a choking and suffocation risk. Teenagers who are able to wear masks should do so when they are with others. Masks are recommended for primary school aged children and should be worn while they are around others in the home.  Parents should assist children in this age group with hand hygiene. For further advice, refer to the latest advice on face masks.  

Children should only move to another household after they and their family members have completed their self-isolation period and have received a negative test result.  For further information about self-isolation is available in the factsheets for confirmed cases and close contacts.  

Your child should remain at school.  The school will conduct a risk assessment and make changes to residential arrangements if needed.  Your child should follow the advice provided by the school.  Your child should only return to the family home to self-isolate in exceptional circumstances when approved by designated health professional or an authorised contact tracer (including an officer in the NSW Department of Education).    

For further information, refer to the advice for boarding schools

Vaccination substantially reduces the chance of developing COVID-19 and outbreaks occurring in schools. People over the age of 12 are eligible for vaccination and high school students will soon become a highly vaccinated cohort.   

As there is not currently an available vaccine for children under 12, the majority of children in primary schools and early childhood services remain unvaccinated and carry a higher risk of the disease spreading. For further information on vaccinations in young adolescents, refer to the recommendations from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).  

The use of rapid antigen testing to reduce risk in schools is currently being considered by the NSW Government, pending approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration of rapid antigen self-tests in the home. We’ll share more information about this as it’s available. 

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