Study of Delta strain in NSW schools, childcare finds most spread by staff

Most of the Covid-19 spread in schools and early childcare centres during Australia’s Delta wave was driven by staff, new research reveals.

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute experts also said face masks for grade three students and above would help reduce the virus spread, while face masks for prep to grade two children was recommended but not “mandatory” given the challenge of getting them to comply.

The institute studied data from June 16 to July 31 when the Delta variant was spreading in NSW.

During this time, 34 students and 25 staff across 51 schools or early childhood education and care centres (ECEC) had Covid-19.

In NSW, the highest transmission risks were between staff members and from staff to children.

Child to child transmission was less common, but household transmission was very high.

Most Covid outbreaks in schools and ECEC centres occurred when attendance was restricted, suggesting cases may have been driven by essential workers and unvaccinated adults, researchers said.

Delta was about five times more transmissible than previous variants, but most children and adolescents continue to have no or only mild symptoms, researchers found.

Face masks worn by grade three students and above will help reduce the spread, researchers said.
Face masks worn by grade three students and above will help reduce the spread, researchers said.

Infections have since fallen in NSW — despite ECEC centres being open — suggesting even though there have been outbreaks in these settings, young children contribute little to the spread.

The institute’s research informed the return of students to Victorian classrooms and measures to keep schools Covid safe.

MCRI Associate Professor Margie Danchin urged schools and ECECs to adopt new state government measures as quickly as possible to curb the risk of spread and help avoid future school closures.

The “three-Vs” government plan includes vaccination of staff and students, improving ventilation, staggering school days start and finishing times, and trialling rapid antigen testing for staff and school attendees in high community transition areas and special schools.

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