If your child's school has had a possible exposure to COVID-19, the school will follow a standard process to reduce the risk of any community transmission.
The Department of Health (DH) works with the school, the school community, the Department of Education and Training (the Department) and other government agencies.
The process is the same for all government schools in Victoria.
Schools will provide you with updates about the different stages of this process.
If a case of COVID-19 is identified at your child's school
Answering your questions about school site closures
Why a school site is closed
Your school site or campus has been closed on the advice of DH due to a confirmed case of COVID-19. This is for the safety of your school community.
If a case of COVID-19 has been identified at a school
If a staff member or child tests positive for COVID-19, the Department will get advice from DH to confirm the case and any necessary actions they need to take. The school site may close for 24 hours while DH investigates the reported case.
If it's confirmed that someone attended the school while infectious, the school site will remain closed while DH does a detailed assessment of risks and exposure at the school and undertakes contact tracing to make sure that the spread of COVID-19 is contained.
The Victorian School Building Authority (VSBA) will also make sure a deep clean of the school takes place if DH confirms that someone was on site while infectious.
Duration of school site closures
In most cases schools will be ready to re-open within 48 hours. In rare circumstances, the contact tracing process may identify additional cases or take longer than expected. This means the school may need to stay closed for longer.
A dedicated team has been set up in DH to respond to COVID-19 cases that are linked to schools and early childhood education and care settings to make sure they can re-open as safely and as quickly as possible. On-site supervision and learning will start again at your school based on advice from DH, in consultation with the Department, when it is safe to do so.
Your principal will provide advice on support for student learning while the school site or campus is temporarily closed.
Duration of cleaning
The VSBA will undertake any necessary deep cleaning as required by DH. Deep cleaning generally takes one to two days, but can take longer, depending on the size of the school.
When school sites re-open
Schools will take all appropriate steps recommended by DH to return to on-site supervision and learning as quickly and as safely as possible. After meeting all requirements and being deemed safe by DH, a school can re-open. The school will provide updates and information to you and the school community, including:
- revised dates and timing
- school access arrangements
- hygiene and physical distancing protocols.
The process for re-opening a school site
Decisions to re-open a school site or campus are based on DH advice, in consultation with the Department. If DH finds that the person was not infectious when at school, no further actions will be required, and DH will advise the Department that the school may re-open. If DH finds that the person was infectious when at school, it will usually recommend the school site or campus remains closed until a deep clean of the school is completed and contact tracing is undertaken to identify and notify any close contacts.
If a school site has been closed, staff and students should limit their movement during contact tracing
Following the initial closure of your school site, all students and staff who were on the school site within the past 14 days are asked to limit their movements while DH undertakes contact tracing. The timing of this will depend on the complexity of the investigation and the number of close contacts identified. Staff and students are requested to only leave their home for brief periods of time for necessary activities, such as:
- exercise (alone or with one household member if supervision required)
- necessary caregiving to family members when no alternative is available
- necessary medical appointments where no alternative is available (such as telehealth)
- shopping for necessary items, only where no one else in the household can perform this task and no alternative is available (such as delivery).
Wherever possible, you need to limit your movement to help reduce the potential spread of COVID-19 and protect our community.
If a school site has been closed, household members of staff and children will be advised if actions are required
DH will work with your child's school to identify and notify any school staff and children identified as having been in close contact with the confirmed case, and provide further advice as required. In some cases, DH may direct secondary contacts (i.e. close or household contacts of close contacts) to quarantine for the same time period as the close contact. DH will advise household members of close contacts if any actions are required.
All members of a household should continue to practise good hygiene and regularly and thoroughly wash their hands.
If a school site has been closed, staff and children should get tested only if they develop symptoms
Unless directed by DH, staff and children do not need to get tested unless they develop symptoms. Symptoms can include:
- chills or sweats
- sore throat
- shortness of breath
- runny nose
- loss of smell or taste.
Following a risk assessment, DH may ask that some staff and children to get tested for COVID-19. If you have any of the symptoms of COVID-19, however mild, you should seek advice and get tested. Read more information about , including locations for your nearest testing site.
What is a ‘close contact’
‘Close contact’ means having face-to-face contact for more than 15 minutes with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19 – or alternatively sharing a closed space with them for more than two hours. In a school, a closed space could be a classroom or office space.
You will be notified if you have had ‘close contact’ with an infected person at a school
DH will work with your school to identify and notify any staff and students identified as having been in close contact with the confirmed case, and provide further advice as needed. If you have any of the symptoms of COVID-19, however mild, you should seek medical advice and get tested. Further is available.
If a staff member or child is identified as a close contact
DH will work with your school to identify and notify any staff and children who have been in close contact with the person who has tested positive to COVID-19 and will provide further advice as required. Close contacts will be required to quarantine for 14 days following the date last in contact with the confirmed case. DH will advise the quarantine period. In addition, close contacts are required by DH to undergo testing on day 11 of the quarantine period. In limited circumstances where the close contact cannot get tested on day 11, they will remain in quarantine for a total of 24 days from their last exposure to the virus.
In some cases, DH may direct secondary contacts (i.e. close or household contacts of close contacts) to quarantine for the same time period as the close contact. DH will advise household members of close contacts if any actions are required.
Quarantine means not leaving your home for any reason, except to seek medical help or in an emergency, until the date stated in the notice from DH. If you are identified as a close contact, DH will contact you directly. This might initially be via a text or a phone call. These calls can come from private or unknown numbers. Please answer these calls if you receive one. DH will provide detailed information about quarantine to all close contacts. During the quarantine period, if a staff member or student starts to experience symptoms associated with COVID-19 such as fever, chills or sweats, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, runny nose, loss of smell or taste, they should:
- see a doctor (calling ahead before visiting)
- get tested at a COVID-19 testing facility and return home until they receive their results
- inform the school.
If a staff member or child has not been identified as a close contact
The school will advise you that you are not a close contact once DH has completed contact tracing. If you have not been contacted and advised by DH during this time that you are a close contact, you no longer need to limit your movements and can return to school for on-site supervision and learning.
Understanding contact tracing and its importance
The contact tracing process is crucial to understanding the spread of the virus within a community and identifying the source and exposure to stop further transmission.
This can take some time depending on the nature of an outbreak. If the DH investigation determines that a person was infectious while at school, the contact tracing process begins.
All children and staff must limit their movements and not attend public places.
If a school site has been closed, no school-based activities should continue until otherwise advised
In the first instance, no school-based activities, such as outside school hours care (OSHC) or a school holiday program, should continue on site until advised otherwise by DH that it is safe to do so. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis on the expert advice of DH through the initial assessment and contact tracing process.
Contact your child’s school if you have concerns
If you are concerned about the wellbeing of your child during this process, contact your child’s school to discuss how they could assist you.
Other sources of support include Parentline on 13 22 89 or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.
Reviewed 18 February 2021