Rapid tests are helping schools monitor COVID cases after the first week back in class

Parents are worried their children will bear permanent damage from the COVID restrictions, a new survey has found. <i>Photo: AAP</i>

Parents are worried their children will bear permanent damage from the COVID restrictions, a new survey has found. Photo: AAP Photo: AAP

Rapid antigen tests have become a back-to-school essential, as the first week of Term 1 in NSW, Victoria and most other states comes to a close.

In NSW, more than 2417 students and 617 staff tested positive in the first week back, according to preliminary data.

In Victoria, more than 2900 students and 410 staff tested positive.

“Detecting coronavirus cases through our school rapid testing program shows that our program is working – catching cases before they enter the classroom to keep school communities safer,” a spokesperson from Victoria’s Department of Education and Training told The New Daily.

“With more than 1.1 million Victorians in schools every day, these cases are an extremely low proportion of the overall case tally.”

However, this data is based off voluntary, twice-weekly testing among schools.

The department noted that because it’s up to individual schools to decide when and how to test, the actual number of positive cases would likely be slightly higher.

No schools were forced to close in any state, but teachers groups say it’s still too early to see whether teachers falling sick will have an impact on staffing, as has happened overseas.

Rapid antigen tests for school kids

Students are routinely taking rapid antigen tests now that school has returned. Photo: AAP

Epidemiologists have repeatedly welcomed the return to class, arguing that schools are a relatively low-risk environment and that it’s essential for children’s social, mental and physical development.

In NSW, attendance at public schools was 86 per cent.

“It tells me that parents have confidence in the systems that we have in place in our schools and that they are working well,” the state’s Education Minister Sarah Mitchell told reporters.

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall also touted “extraordinarily high attendance” for the state’s staggered first week back.

After nationwide shortages of rapid antigen tests in January, the states have delivered millions of tests directly to schools.

NSW has delivered more than eight million tests to schools in what the state government has called “one of the largest logistical undertakings” in recent memory.

The Victorian government claims to have made free rapid antigen tests available to every student and staff member in the state, as well as delivering 51,000 air purifiers for use in class and staff rooms.

Rapid antigen test delivery

State governments are delivering millions of rapid antigen tests to schools. Photo: AAP

Queensland is distributing 250,000 rapid tests to schools over the weekend, ahead of the term starting on Monday, February 7 – two weeks later than usual.

However, while the states have managed to make the return to class relatively COVID-safe, teachers still want more direction from the federal government.

“Our members across the country need certainty,” AEU president Correna Haythorpe told TND ahead of the return to class.

“Instead there is confusion about close contact definitions for staff and students and a complete abrogation of responsibility from the Prime Minister.”

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