19 March 2020
19 March COVID-19 updates

Rules on gatherings do not apply to early learning services

You may have seen today that the Government has announced that indoor gatherings of more than 100 people are to be cancelled. This does not apply to early learning services, schools, universities, workplaces, supermarkets or public transport. We will continue to provide you with guidance about any considerations that could be relevant to early learning centres.


Why an early learning service or school could close

At the time of writing, no early learning services have been required to close. There has been one temporary closure of a school following direction from a Medical Officer of Health.  This was after one student tested positive for COVID-19. That student is self-isolating and all their close contacts (150 students and staff) have been tested for the virus. The closure allows health authorities to identify close contacts and where needed, testing.

The school will reopen next week; however those 150 students and staff will remain away from the school for a period of 14 days from when they last had contact with the student confirmed with the virus. Unless the testing shows otherwise, those close contacts are not assumed to be sick. It is a precaution only to keep those people and those around them safe. 

Similar procedures would apply for an early learning service, if necessary.


Closure of an early learning service

If a child or staff member at your service is confirmed with COVID-19, Health authorities may require your service to close. This will assist in tracking and tracing close contacts. 


If you have a confirmed case in your early learning service

If there is a confirmed case linked with your service, you will be quickly advised by the Medical Officer of Health. 

Our regional Ministry of Education staff will work with you and local health authorities to agree on a plan for your service. That will happen quickly and support will be provided to assist you to communicate with and support your community. 


Decision tool for early learning and school responses to COVID-19

The Ministry is working with other government agencies to align our planning for a range of possible scenarios relating to early learning services and schools. An overview of our decision tool is available here for your information [DOCX]. This tool tells you what will happen in different situations.
We have seen this in practice already. An example for Level 1 was Westlake Girls' High School, where a student's parents were both confirmed with the virus but the student had no symptoms (and continues to have no symptoms). An example of Level 2 is Logan Park High School, where a student has tested positive for COVID-19.
You will see that higher levels of risk also have plans in place, which could include early learning service or school closures for longer periods of time. Most of the scenarios at these higher risk levels relate to community transmission. Community transmission is when a confirmed case had no known contact with another confirmed case, and hasn’t recently arrived from overseas. There is currently no community transmission in New Zealand.


When is sick, sick?

The messaging remains clear – that if you are feeling unwell please stay home, and the same goes for children and young people.  However at the tail end of a cold, there will be runny noses and probably some coughing. This might be worrying for some people who are being vigilant about their own and others’ health.

A diagram has been developed by Dr Siouxsie Wiles to assist you when considering symptoms (sent to us by a teacher who found it useful). What it tells us is:
•    A dry cough and a high temperature are common to both flu and COVID-19.
•    Sneezing is not a symptom of COVID-19. However if someone has COVID-19, then sneezing can spread droplets containing the virus.


Letter template in the event of closure

The following letter could be used and tailored to send information to your community to keep them informed. (Home-based services may need slightly different messaging, depending on whether a case was limited to one home or affected the wider network.)

Kia ora koutou

With so much information and misinformation swirling around about COVID-19, I wanted to share with you what will happen if we were to have a case in our early learning service. We have been planning for this and are in a position to respond quickly. 

•    If a case is confirmed in our service’s immediate community (for example, a child, educator, staff member, or member of their household), the Medical Officer of Health and Ministry of Education will inform me about this, and we will work together to get quick and clear messaging out to you.

•    If there was a case confirmed of someone in our service, we will likely be asked to close temporarily by Health authorities. This will allow time for close contacts to be traced, appropriate testing to be undertaken, and a careful clean of the service to be undertaken. 

•    If our service does need to close temporarily, we have a plan in place to support childrens' learning.

We know COVID-19 feels scary and of course people are concerned for the wellbeing of our children. Please be assured that with no case confirmed in our service, your children are safe here. 

Good hygiene is a priority at our service, and we are reinforcing this regularly with all our staff and children. We know that practising good hygiene is still the best thing we can all do to prevent illness.

We are getting the most up to date advice and guidance so that we can confidently make informed decisions about the safety and wellbeing of our early learning service community.    

Thank you for continuing to support us with this.