Speaking Schools’ COVID-19 Action Plan
4 March 2020
Last updated 5 May 2021
As of early May 2021, there is very limited COVID-19 in NSW.
At the time of writing, we know the following:
- vaccinations have begun for essential frontline workers and adults over 50 years old;
- preliminary evidence shows that both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines likely reduce the transmissibility of COVID-19, and substantially reduce both mild and severe symptoms;
- there have been around 5,300 cases in NSW, representing less than 0.06% of the population;
- of those cases, the clear majority (98%+) have recovered from the illness, and most people caught the virus overseas;
- authorities are confident that this number is likely to be very accurate, due to the widespread testing in NSW;
- it is “very uncommon” for children to catch COVID-19 (less than 400 of known cases in NSW have been children, representing less than 8% of overall cases, despite making up 22% of the population);
- the spread of COVID-19 infections in NSW schools has been “very limited“;
- it is “extremely rare” for children to display severe symptoms of COVID-19 (the youngest person to have died from COVID-19 in NSW was in their 50s);
- children are much less likely to be the cause of a household outbreak than adults (only 10% of the household outbreaks, compared to 50% for the flu);
- most transmissions of the virus occur after people begin to show symptoms (at least 60% of transmissions, and potentially up to 94%, are from symptomatic close contacts); and
- the most common sources of transmission are household close contacts, rather than transmission in the community.
Whilst children appear to not be at high risk from COVID-19, and the vaccination program means the risks involved with COVID-19 are decreasing daily, SSA places their safety (and the safety of our coaches) as our highest priority. This is the first tier of our teaching philosophy.
SSA has made the determination that, taking into account the range of safeguards outlined below, it is now safe to run in-person classes in Sydney.
Below is our COVID-19 Action Plan for our current and upcoming programs. It is designed to minimise the risk of transmission at our programs, and takes a number of additional steps beyond what most Government Schools are currently doing.
It will be regularly revised and updated to ensure that SSA continues to be at the forefront of best practice program delivery.
Action Plan Summary
Our Management Team has completed the Infection Control Training provided by the Australian Department of Health, and have used this knowledge (as well as our own research) to develop our COVID-19 Action Plan.
Our COVID-19 Action Plan has three different elements:
- Symptom testing
- Limited exposure
- Enhanced sanitation
Using a combination of these three elements, we hope to remove the chance of COVID-19 spreading at any of our programs. Please read below to see how each of these elements work in practice.
Element #1 – Symptom Testing
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:
- shortness of breath; and
- flu-like symptoms (e.g. cough, sore throat & fatigue).
Whilst not everyone will show these symptoms, they are the best indication that someone is unwell before they are tested.
Noting that most transmissions are the result of symptomatic cases, it is our policy under the COVID-19 Action Plan to exclude all students who show symptoms, who have tested positive, or who are awaiting test results. This will be done through the following steps:
- Requiring that parents do not send their children to any of our physical programs if they (or any other member of their household) have returned a positive COVID-19 test, are awaiting results from a COVID-19 test, or are displaying symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
- Requiring that any coaches or management staff who are in similar circumstances to stay home and (if appropriate) get tested as soon as reasonably practicable (if they have not already done so).
- Ensuring that temperature checks using non-contact thermometers are conducted before students attend any of our classes, and excluding any students presenting with a fever.
- Training coaches to spot the symptoms of COVID-19, and providing a space that can be used to isolate any symptomatic students or staff.
- Providing parents with credits or refunds for any missed classes as a result of adhering to the above policies.
Importantly, students will not be required to wear masks – whilst they can be useful for adults when there is widespread community transmission, this is not necessarily true for children (they are often worn incorrectly, provide a false sense of security, and lead to children touching their faces more often). That said, students are still allowed to wear masks at programs if their parents would prefer.
Should anyone present at our programs subsequently test positive, we will let parents of all close contacts know as soon as possible and shut down all physical programs that may have been impacted.
By adhering to the above, it is very unlikely that anyone infected with COVID-19 will be present at any of our programs. That said, given at least some transmission results from asymptomatic cases, there are two seperate elements to our COVID-19 Action Plan to help ensure that any residual possibility of transmission is minimised as much as possible.
Element #2 – Limited Exposure
The virus that causes COVID-19 is predominantly spread by respiratory droplets, generally produced when someone coughs or sneezes. These are usually transmitted via close contact – defined as 15 minutes of face-to-face contact with a person, or a prolonged period (more than two hours) in an enclosed space with a person – but may also be caught by touching infected surfaces, and then touching the eyes, nose or mouth.
In order to limit exposure to others, there are a number of steps that we can take to ensure that students are kept as safe as possible. Below are just some of the steps we’ll be taking to make sure everyone feels secure attending programs.
Drop Off and Pick Up
- No parents or other adults will be allowed on campus whilst there is active community transmission, with drop-off and pick-up being done at the front of the venue (where possible without parents leaving the car).
- For our holiday programs, if there is community transmission occurring in NSW, our staff members will be required to wear masks whilst interacting with parents, and parents are strongly encouraged to wear masks as well.
- For our holiday programs, drop-off and pick-up times will be staggered for different age groups, with special exemptions and supervision provided for families with students in different classes.
- All in-person parent presentations have been suspended indefinitely (although we will do our best to send videos to all parents of their child’s final presentation), to limit adult-child interactions (unless we are able to ensure social distancing at particular venues – this assessment is done on a case-by-case basis).
In the Classroom
- Although not required under the Public Health Order, and noting that NSW public schools are not required to do the same, we will restrict student numbers so classes (where practicable) adhere to the 4 square metre rule (or the 2 square metre rule, whichever is recommended by the NSW Government for other organisations).
- Students will be assigned seats during each class, and will be required to stay in those seats for all sessions on the same day, to help prevent indirect spread.
- All desks will be spaced as much as possible to ensure the maximum possible distance between students.
- Students will be required to bring their own stationery, food and drink, and will not be allowed to share with other students.
- Whilst still running a range of fun and engaging classroom activities, any that require movement, touching or face-to-face discussion will be modified as best as possible to remove the risk of transmission.
- Class sessions will last no longer than two hours, to ensure that students are not in an enclosed space with other students for a “prolonged period“.
During the Breaks (Holiday Workshops ONLY)
- Recess and lunch breaks will be staggered by age group, and students in different age groups will be physically and/or temporally separated from those of other age groups.
- Unlike many schools, we will be enforcing social distancing in the playground, and will run activities to help students enjoy their breaks without physically touching.
Students & Masks
At this stage, we will not be requiring students to wear masks.
The research suggests that wearing masks incorrectly renders them ineffective, whilst touching them regularly may actually increase the risk of transmitting the virus. Given that students would need to wear masks for extended periods of time, most masks are adult size and inappropriate for children, and many students are at a developmental stage where they don’t quite understand how the masks work in practice, we have formed the opinion that forcing all students to wear masks would at best not be particularly helpful, and at worst increase the risks.
We also note that children are much less likely to transmit the virus – even when Melbourne went into full lockdown, the mask mandate only applied to people 12 and over. This is also consistent with the WHO recommendations. If there is still significant risk in the lead up to the programs, we may require high school students to wear masks at in-person, however we won’t be requiring the same of primary school students, as this is against the medical advice.
That said, if students (or their parents) wish to wear masks at the programs, they are still welcome to do so. Coaches will also be required to wear masks at holiday programs when interacting with parents (if there is active community transmission at that time), and parents are encouraged to do the same whilst interacting with coaches and other students.
Element #3 – Enhanced Sanitation
The virus that causes COVID-19 is predominantly spread by respiratory droplets, generally produced when someone coughs or sneezes. These cannot go through your skin – in order to catch the virus, the respiratory droplets must reach your eyes, nose or mouth. Whilst this can occur directly if someone was to cough without covering their mouth, it often happens when someone touches something that is infected, and then subsequently touches their face (which is often an unconscious action).
Given this, and as outlined by the Australian Department of Health, the “most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to wash your hands regularly”. As such, at all of our venues:
- Hand sanitiser and tissues will be readily available;
- Students and staff will be required to sanitise their hands upon entering and exiting the classroom (e.g. upon arrival, before recess, after lunch, going to the toilet etc.);
- Students and staff will also be required to sanitise their hands after coughing or sneezing; and
- Coaches are trained in proper handwashing technique and will, to the best of their ability, remind students to wash their hands properly.
This is in addition to encouraging other good health practices, such as coughing into one’s elbow and throwing out used tissues immediately.
In addition to encouraging good personal hygiene, we will regularly be cleaning our classrooms and break areas to ensure that students are as safe as possible.
This will include:
- Cleaning all regularly touched surfaces before and after classes with disinfectant;
- Regularly tidying the classroom environment, so students don’t touch things used by other students; and
- For holiday workshops, cleaning classrooms whilst students are out at break, and cleaning break areas between age groups.
Ongoing Online Programs
Since mid-March 2020, we have been offering online programs to students all over Australia. We have no plans to remove these programs, and will continue to have them as an option for parents who would prefer not to attend physical programs, can’t easily reach any of our physical locations, or if restrictions mean we are once again required to put our in-person workshops on hold.
Students and staff participate in these programs from home, so there is no face-to-face contact between coaches and students, and thus no change of contagion. These programs will continue to operate normally.
SSA has put in place a policy that specifies the obligations and responsibilities of its management team, coaching staff and partner organisations.
Please get in touch if you would like a copy of the policy.