Students may no longer be subject to lockdowns or home quarantine, but instead tested at school in order to keep them in the classroom under a new process presented to federal and state leaders.
The final modelling by the Doherty Institute, delivered to national cabinet last Friday, has recommended to leaders a “test-to-stay” approach should be implemented in schools to prevent Covid-19 outbreaks.
Modellers found daily rapid antigen tests of children exposed to the virus were as effective for preventing outbreaks as a period of seven day quarantine.
Head of modelling and biostatistics at the Burnet Institute Dr Nick Scott said under the approach students would only be sent home if they tested positive to Covid-19.
“What we found was that the seven day quarantine and the seven day test to stay were approximately equivalent in terms of infection outcomes and outbreak risk,” Dr Scott said.
“But the seven day test to stay strategy had the considerable additional benefit. There were much less days of face-to-face teaching lost”
He added even if compliance was low, the test to stay approach outweighed quarantine options.
“We looked at what would happen with lower compliance because it‘s reliant on people conducting the test before attending schools,” Dr Scott said.
“What we saw is that it wasn’t overly sensitive to that. So with lower compliance, it was slightly less effective, but it wasn’t a there wasn’t a huge drop off or a threshold for that.”
The report found the test to stay method for classroom contacts resulted in just one infection in primary school, and six fewer in high schools.
The modeller‘s recommendations will come as a relief to the millions of parents whose children are set to head back to school for face-to-face classes after months of homeschooling.
Under this approach, on average, only tens of teaching days will be lost per incursion.
“Twice weekly testing of students markedly increases the chances of nipping an outbreak in the bud,” the modellers said
“There is a small increase in average school days lost because we are looking harder for infections and so detect asymptomatic individuals, but far fewer large outbreaks.
The report said with no screening or contract tracing, as many as 47 per cent of Covid incursions would die out before spreading to other students in a largely vaccinated high school.
In primary schools – where children are still too young to be vaccinated – that figure sits at 37 per cent.
But a third of introductions of the virus would result in 20 or more infections, and sometimes as many as 50.
“Twice weekly screening of students leads to earlier detection of an incursion and reduces the number of exposure days in the school,” the modellers said.
“This increases the chances of an incursion leading to no secondary infections in both primary and secondary schools, because the index cases are often detected and removed from the school before transmission occurs”
Asked if the test to stay approach could be rolled out into workplaces across the country, Dr Scott said that modelling had not been undertaken.
“There’s reasons to believe that test to stay in the workplace could be different to stay in the schools,” he said.
“So we don’t want to draw that conclusion until that (modelling) has been explicitly done.”