Masks, schools: Students return to the classroom

Thousands of students have headed back to the classroom this morning after three weeks of school closures.

The whole of the country outside Auckland woke up to level 2 restrictions yesterday but public primary and secondary schools could not open until today.

Many students could be seen wearing masks at Burnside High School on Thursday. Photo / George Heard

Face masks are recommended in classrooms but are not required for teachers or students. Many students could be seen wearing them as they entered school this morning.

Michael from Burnside High School in Christchurch said he is looking forward to seeing his friends.

"I'm excited about school instead of doing it online. It was good but it wasn't the same," he said.

Ebony, also from Burnside High, is looking forward to doing work in the classroom.

"I'm really excited to see my friends again since I haven't seen them in ages. My computer broke down in lockdown so I have to catch up on quite a bit of stuff."

Cobham Intermediate principal Eddie Norgate is out on the front gate welcoming back students and staff.

"It's fantastic, good to see their smiles and they're keen to get back."

He said as an incentive to get the students back, the school has dropped the price of Juicies by 50c.

"Hopefully they all come with their dollar coins and it will be a good day," he said.

All students were briefed on health protocols yesterday so know what to expect today.

Dr Mikael Boulic, senior lecturer at Massey University says research has shown that only around 40 per cent of teachers open class windows during teaching time.

"So there is not much ventilation for our classrooms. If the windows stay closed, there is no ventilation and as a result, particles, droplets and potential virus could stay around.

"When the weather is fine, a couple of windows on both sides of the class - for cross-ventilation - could be kept open during teaching," he said.

When the students have a break outside, teachers could try the "flush effect".

This would mean all windows and doors open are at the same time for 10-15 minutes to efficiently ventilate the classroom.

Other advice includes using child-safe fans to increase the effectiveness of open windows.

Teachers should consider having activities, classes and breaks outside when circumstances allow and use portable air cleaners - high-efficiency particulate air (Hepa) filtration units where natural ventilation isn't feasible and in high-risk areas such as sick bays.

Dr Jin Russell, developmental paediatrician at Starship Children's Hospital said the majority of children who are infected with Covid-19 experience a mild or asymptomatic infection.

"However, the risk to children is not zero, and rarely, severe disease can result. This is why is so important for children over the age of 12 to be vaccinated, and for school staff to be vaccinated as well.," she said.

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