Schools across Auckland will open on Monday but pupils will not be required to wear face masks in class, with fresh assurances to parents there's a low risk of kids catching Covid-19.
In the latest Education Ministry bulletin to schools Education Secretary Iona Holsted is moving to allay growing fears children's health may be under threat in classrooms saying it is a safe environment and the kids need to keep learning.
All levels of education across Auckland was disrupted for a second time this year when the region went into alert level 3 lockdown on August 12 following an outbreak that has so far infected 118 people.
More than a quarter of those who have fallen ill are aged 19 and under.
Around half a dozen schools across the city have been impacted by the outbreak, with all 3000 students and staff at Mt Albert Grammar School yesterday told by public health officials to get tested after a second student from the school was found to be infected.
Despite this development just days before the region moves into alert level 2, the Education Ministry says where possible it's vital children are back in school next week.
"We are aware that some families may be reluctant to have their children attend school, even at alert level 2," said Holsted.
"While children can get Covid-19 and can transmit the virus to other people, health authorities have noted that their experience in New Zealand and overseas with Covid-19 shows that it does not infect or affect children and teens in the same way it does adults.
"Compared to other places, schools and early learning services are not environments where we have seen significant spread of Covid-19. Household members and work colleagues who are in close contact with people with Covid-19 are the most common routes for transmission.
"Children and teens don't become unwell if they do get infected, and they don't tend to pass the virus on so much as adults in the classroom setting."
While acknowledging the loss of learning due to the latest lockdown, she urged teaching staff to do "everything possible to re-engage students".
The bulletin also addressed the decision to not enforce mask wearing in the classroom, saying there was a low risk of infection among pupils.
In a statement the director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay said because schools were not environments where there had been significant spread of Covid it was not considered necessary.
This stance is at odds with the World Health Organisation which is now recommending masks be worn by all children attending school.
"Overall, we think it is important not to interfere with learning as much as possible, so it's about balancing up the benefits against the potential harms," said McElnay.
"Children and teens don't become as unwell if they do get infected, and they don't tend to pass the virus on so much as adults in the classroom setting.
"With the other public health measures we have put in place in schools and early learning services, coupled with the reduced risk of transmission at alert level 2, we consider the risk of infection is low."
Based on what was known about face coverings and transmission in children, the health ministry was taking a balanced approach emerging from level 3. If new evidence emerged, the guidance would be revised, she said.
Current Covid-19 hygiene practices, such as regular hand washing, coughing and sneezing into elbows, and staying home if you become sick were enough to keep children safe, she said.
While it would be mandatory to wear masks on public transport for anyone aged 12 and above, school transport was exempt with systems in place to identify potential close contacts and children staying away from school if they are unwell.
Parents were reminded their children must stay home at any alert level if they were unwell, had Covid-19 symptoms, were self-isolating or waiting for the results of a Covid-19 test.
However, Holsted said children, young people or teachers who wished to wear face coverings or masks at schools or early learning services may do so if they wanted to.
"They are entitled to make this decision and should not be criticised for doing so."
Today Otahuhu Primary principal Jason Swann was preparing to re-open his South Auckland school after 30 children and staff were sent into self-isolation for two weeks when an infected person linked to the Americold cool store outbreak spent time in a classroom the day before lockdown.
The entire school had been sanitised as a precaution, he said.
A dedicated testing station had been set up at the school and everyone had returned negative test results.
"It's been a busy and thorough process," the relieved principal said.
Across Auckland concerned MAGS parents have flooded Covid testing stations and doctors' surgeries to make sure they and their teenage children are in the clear before classes start on Monday.
Parents of the 3000 students received an email yesterday telling them they needed to be tested if they hadn't already had one in the past fortnight.
Just before lockdown on August 12 a senior student linked to one of the earliest cases in the Auckland cluster had shown up to class when he was not feeling ill.
Some 100 pupils and staff were made to self-isolate.
It's since emerged a second pupil at the school has tested positive.
All staff and students who had not been tested since August 17 were asked to take a test as a precautionary measure to ensure there were not any undiagnosed cases in the school community.
The school said it had taken all reasonable steps to follow health advice and minimise risk, and it would open on Monday.