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Health and safety advice for all Victorian schools

Health and safety advice for all Victorian schools to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission within a school environment.

COVIDSafe principles for schools

The principles for maintaining a COVIDSafe school apply to all Victorian schools: specialist and mainstream, government, independent and Catholic. They are aligned with Victoria’s COVIDSafe principles for business and acknowledge the unique school setting as both a place of work for staff and a learning environment for children and young people, drawing on local and international literature.

As COVID-19 is a new virus, new scientific research is regularly emerging. Currently, the World Health Organization suggests that COVID-19 can be transmitted by contact with droplets or airborne aerosols from an infected person, and contaminated surfaces. Airborne aerosols are tiny particles that float in the air. This understanding may change as more research emerges and more is learned about COVID-19.

A combination of strategies is required to minimise transmission risk. No single strategy completely reduces risk and not every measure will always be possible in all educational settings. Where some controls are not feasible, others should be enhanced. Strategies should also be adjusted over time in line with changing risk of transmission in the community.

The School Operations Guide provides point-in-time and detailed advice on specific activities and operations for all schools, informed by COVIDSafe principles and Department of Health advice.

Victorian Chief Health Officer message to schools and their communities

Reinforce COVIDSafe behaviours*    

  • Stay home when unwell.*
  • Practise good hygiene.*
  • Ensure physical distancing (1.5m).* 
  • Wear a face mask* when required or recommended.
  • Avoid interactions in enclosed spaces.* 

Create COVIDSafe spaces

  • Make hand hygiene easy.
  • Keep surfaces clean and implement regular cleaning and disinfection.
  • Promote outdoor air ventilation and do not have air conditioners on recirculate.

Promote COVIDSafe activities

  • Move activities outdoors where possible, weather permitting.
  • Adapt, modify or defer higher-risk activities.

Not currently required with very low community transmission:

  • Limit school access to outside visitors where possible.
  • Reduce mixing between groups.
  • Create workforce bubbles.*

Respond to COVID-19 risk*

  • Keep records and act quickly if someone becomes unwell.*
  • Use personal protective equipment where indicated.
  • Clean and disinfect appropriately if a staff member or student has been unwell at school.
  • Manage individual risk.

*The COVIDSafe principles for schools incorporate COVIDSafe principles for business and may require adaptation for the school context.

Reinforce COVIDSafe behaviours

Key behaviours required for reducing COVID-19 transmission risk include staying home when unwell, performing regular hand hygiene, and where possible pursuing strategies to support physical distancing. Face masks are recommended when 1.5 metres physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Education settings are uniquely placed to integrate these messages into everyday learning and practice, through role-modelling and formal and informal learning opportunities. 

Students and staff should continue to be vigilant and remain home if unwell. Further information can be found in Managing illness in schools and early childhood services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hand hygiene remains one of the critical measures to reduce COVID-19 transmission. Hands should be cleaned with an alcohol-based hand sanitiser or washed with soap and water for 20 seconds.

Students and staff should be encouraged to cough or sneeze into their elbow or a tissue.

Physical distancing should be encouraged where possible and density limits implemented in office spaces and areas generally accessed by the public, such as reception.

Congestion within the school and at entry points should be avoided where feasible by adjusting drop-off and pick-up processes, signage and one-way flow of individuals in more confined spaces such as locker bays and canteens.

Create COVIDSafe spaces

The spaces where staff and students teach, learn and play have an important role in protecting against COVID-19 transmission, particularly surface and airborne transmission.

Reducing the need to interact with high-touch surfaces, regular environmental cleaning and cleaning of high-touch surfaces and good hand hygiene can protect against surface transmission.

Promote use of hand hygiene facilities by keeping them well stocked and in readily accessible locations, for example at the entrance to buildings. Hand sanitiser should be accessible in every occupied room, particularly where access to running water and soap is not readily available.

Outdoor air ventilation should be increased whenever possible, including in bathrooms, to dilute the concentration of any airborne virus and to filter air recirculating in a space. Wherever possible switch air handling units with central recirculation to 100% outdoor air and avoid use of fans in shared spaces. Where this is not possible, windows should be open as much as possible. Further advice on ventilation can be found in Coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission from air-circulating, wind-blowing devices and activities.

Promote COVIDSafe activities

Some school-based activities may need to be altered, deferred or delivered remotely to reduce COVID-19 transmission risk. Decisions regarding the types of activities that take place should consider the potential risk associated with the activity, the level of community transmission, and available modifications to minimise risk.

Where appropriate and weather permitting, opportunities for outdoor learning and working should be considered as alternatives to interactions indoors due to improved ventilation.

Singing and playing wind and brass instruments can occur with strategies to reduce risk such as physical distancing, moving outdoors, increasing ventilation, reducing the number of people, or reducing the length of time a particular activity is conducted for. Further advice on ways to reduce risk can be found in Coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission from air-circulating, wind-blowing devices and activities.

Large events involving wider members of school community (i.e. parents/carers) should be planned in line with relevant restrictions in the community, adhering to indoor and outdoor density limits.

Respond to COVID-19 risk

Any staff member or student who becomes unwell while at school with symptoms of COVID-19 must return home immediately and get tested, with a designated space(s) made available on school premises to support isolation where required.

Staff or students most at risk of severe illness as a result of COVID-19 infection should continue to individually assess appropriateness for on-site attendance with support from their medical practitioner, noting that these assessment should be reviewed alongside notable changes to COVID-19 in Victoria. Further information can be found in Advice for schools and families on medical vulnerability during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Good record-keeping in schools, including for any visitors, enables the prompt identification of individuals who may have been in contact with a confirmed case.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be used in line Guidance for the use of Personal Protective Equipment in education settings, with staff trained to understand when and how to use PPE appropriately.

Schools must notify the Department of a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 in a school, providing requested information and taking required actions.

Appropriate cleaning must take place following a confirmed case on school premises.

Further information about the required steps for the management of unwell students and staff can be found in the School Operations Guide (login required) and the in the Managing illness in schools and early childhood services during the COVID-19 pandemic fact sheet.

Reviewed 19 March 2021

Coronavirus Victoria

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