Dear <<First Name>>,
The Tasmanian Government says schools, colleges and TasTAFE campuses remain open on the basis of advice from Public Health Tasmania.
Your AEU Executive contacted the Director of Public Health Tasmania, to put the questions coming in from members to him. Below are some written questions and the responses provided by Dr Mark Veitch.
In addition, AEU Executive Member David Genford and Acting State Manager Adam Clifford met with heads of the Department Education, to put the ongoing concerns of members directly to them. The DoE has committed to provide a response to those concerns today, and I will share those with you as soon as we can.
Please keep the feedback coming and stay connected with your AEU Rep, organiser and your AEU office via email and phone.
Q&A with Mark Veitch, Director of Public Health Tasmania
The advice is based on that of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), which is advised by the Communicable Disease Network Australia (CDNA) and other experts in public health, infectious diseases, and epidemiology. See https://www.health.gov.au/news/australian-health-protection-principal-committee-ahppc-coronavirus-covid-19-statement-on-17-march-2020. This advice still entertains the possibility that school closure may be justified at some point in an epidemic, or become part of a wider contraction of community-wide activity. The science behind this is not always appreciated by all who make comments.
- The Premier and Education Minister are saying that schools and TAFE will remain open because of your advice Mark. Where are you getting that advice from given so many other medical experts are recommending we close schools and TAFE?
An average of 4m2 per person provides a substantial space around individuals, recognizing that at times they may be closer, at and other times further apart. Schools could consider how to configure classrooms and even stagger classes (if feasible) to reduce the ‘density’ of student. So this is a goal, and a guide but should also be accompanied by hygiene measure, exclusion of ill children etc.
- The latest social distancing guidelines refer to 4m2 but how critical is that advice? If it’s not critical, then why give it because it can’t actually happen in a school?
Testing in Tasmania has followed the national recommendations all along, and these have evolved to include testing of some people in higher risk settings or with otherwise unexplained illness, as well as returned travelers and contacts of cases. Testing along these lines has been effective at identifying all the cases to date in Tasmania. Extensive testing of low risk people would risk exhausting test supplies. It is impossible to rule out rare transmission in any setting, but there is no direct or indirect evidence suggestive of transmission in educational settings in Tasmania. Expect testing criteria and practices to continue to change so that those who need testing get tested (which has been the gist of it all along).
- The media are saying that we’re not testing for community transmission in Tasmania, is this actually true? Is it possible that there are community transmissions occurring in our schools and TAFE?
I can’t speak for the decision of Libraries Tas. The evidence is that children have the lowest incidence of COVID-19 infection and that transmission in school settings does not cause outbreaks and does not seem to be a driver of spread in the community. Schools may even be safer place to be than in the wider community.
- Libraries Tasmania cancelled their school holiday programs today citing staff health and wellbeing. Given the children that would have attended this program are in our schools currently, if it’s a staff wellbeing issue for Libraries Tas staff then why isn’t it also a health and wellbeing issue for school staff?
Ill children should be excluded, whether or not they have a fever. Many ill children, including those with COVID-19, will not have a fever. Actively ensuring from parents / guardians that children are well is a better approach than temperature testing which is likely to give a false sense of security.
- Why haven’t you recommended that we do temperature testing of students in our schools like other countries that have kept their schools open?
Of course AEU members have many more questions and concerns and we continue to put those to the government and heads of DoE. I'll be in touch with more updates soon.
If you think you might have missed an AEU member update or you're looking for more information, visit our COVID-19 information page.
AEU Tasmanian Branch