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Why schools will remain open amid potential COVID surge

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Education Minister Sue Ellery has vowed WA schools will not close for a COVID-19 outbreak when case numbers ramp up.

Releasing details on Friday of how close contacts in public and private schools will be defined once the State records “very high” daily case loads, Ms Ellery said the definitions were stricter than those set out in the national guidelines.

They include three main types of contact with a positive case: sharing a classroom, one-on-one where face masks were not consistently worn and workplace contact between adults who spend more than 15 minutes indoors in close proximity.

Under the plan announced on Friday — which will kick in only when WA starts to record much higher virus case numbers — students who have been exposed to COVID but are not displaying symptoms will be encouraged to continue attending school.

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But they will be asked to avoid public transport, taking part in extra-curricular activities or attending after school child care for one week.

Teachers exposed to COVID in the workplace but who do not develop symptoms will also be permitted to continue teaching — provided they return a negative daily RAT and quarantine when not at work.

They would also have to wear a surgical mask and travel alone to work if possible.

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Teachers who test positive to COVID would have to isolate for seven days from the date of the test. They could leave quarantine on day seven if they test negative and no symptoms develop.

Parents would be notified when a positive case was detected in a school.

Ms Ellery said definitions of close contacts in schools differed to those that would apply to people in the general community, taking into account the importance of keeping schools open to provide face-to-face learning.

She said the plan would allow children to learn without the schooling disruptions experienced on the east coast, minimise risk and balance the number of staff on furlough.

And she stressed the new measures would not apply when schools go back on Monday.

“It does recognise that schools and early years services are critical, providing face-to-face learning to students for their social development and their mental health and supporting the economy so parents can work,” Ms Ellery said.

“There’s no question, 2022 — the first half — is going to be bumpy in education.”

Telethon Kids Institute director Jonathan Carapetis this week recommended schools should employ a comprehensive testing plan using RATs twice weekly at home for all school children, in line with measures implemented in NSW and Victoria.

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Ms Ellery said the State Government would supply RAT kits to all schools, though at this point they would only be used for staff members.

She noted that NSW and Victoria were using RATs as a surveillance tool, requiring students to take a test twice a week under a one-month pilot trial.

“We will give further consideration to the broader use of RATs over the next few weeks, based on Chief Health Officer advice, and observation of how those pilots work,” she said.

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