Nearly 3.5 years after the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) came and went, some Australian schools have brought back mask mandates and stay at home measures.
After “an increase in COVID cases in the community,” Liverpool Girls High School in New South Wales, Australia stated that “mask wearing would be mandatory for all staff, students and visitors for five days from May 16” according to a paraphrasing of a social media post reported by The Sydney Morning Herald on May 18.
News.com.au reported on May 18 that the school had mandated in a social media post that, “Years 7, 8 and 12 will be learning at school and are expected to attend … Years 9, 10 and 11 will be learning from home and are expected to be online at 9.30am.”
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SMH reports that 4 other schools in the region have similarly “moved some students” to stay at home, while messaging emitted from administrators pushed for indoor and outdoor masking.
May 19 reporting by Australian outlet News9 stated that no less than 11 schools in NSW had “reverted to pandemic-era learning from home this week amid multiple COVID-19 outbreaks.”
News9 added that 11 of 67 teachers at Liverpool Girls were “absent with the virus.”
Yet the Zoom learning measures may be a result of staffing problems. President of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council Craig Petersen told the Herald that there’s simply a lack of substitute teachers.
“A lot of our schools can’t get casuals anymore, and schools are competing for that increasingly small casual teaching pool which is essential for that day-to-day relief when teachers are sick,” Petersen said, adding, “That lack of staff is affecting students’ engagement levels, and behaviour too.”
The Herald notes that it’s not just COVID positives on the rise, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza cases are on the wax, with the flu alone showing a 35 percent weekly increase amounting to 1,300 cases.
James Wood, a professor for the University of NSW that participates in data modeling for the state’s health department told the outlet that, “Schools are most likely to partially close due to absences of teaching staff.”
There is no widespread viral transmission evidenced in schools at present, Wood was paraphrased as adding.
“Fewer than 1 per cent of students in the state have been asked to spend time learning from home due to the government’s temporary Covid-19 measures,” news.com.au paraphrased the NSW Department of Education as stating.
This isn’t the first time that reported COVID outbreaks and teacher shortages causing remote learning edicts has emerged in the region.
In March, The Guardian reported that both the states of Victoria and NSW had mandated students to stay at home after positive PCR tests led to chains of contact tracing.
An anonymous teacher at a Sydney public school said, “It’s been extremely difficult to find casual teachers which has resulted in classes being split quite regularly.”
The article noted, “All positive cases must be registered with Service NSW and eligible children are required to be vaccinated.”
Deputy Principal of Notre Dame College in Victoria, Jennifer Frisardi, told the Guardian that a lot of teachers just retired during the original pandemic, “Sometimes as a result of the high rates of change and a sense of personal vulnerability which may not have arisen if not for Covid.”
Prue Car, NSW Deputy Premier and Education Minister told the media that extended learn from home mandates are a “thing of the past” according to a May 19 news.com.au article.
“We need our children in our classrooms learning,” Car stated, adding, “Unfortunately, there may be some exceptions to that rule from time to time, particularly because of the chronic teacher shortage that we’re experiencing”
Car added that the shortage is something “that we inherited from the previous coalition government.”
Former NSW Premier Gladys Berejeklian, who held a markedly hawkish position on COVID public lockdowns, measures, and mandates, was forced to resign in October of 2021 after pressure resulting from a scandal surrounding a secret relationship with a member of Australia’s federal Parliament who was himself under investigation for sketchy connections to Chinese Communist Party-linked entities became too prominent.