WA COVID update: McGowan Government’s back to school plan finally revealed

Bethany Hiatt & Josh ZimmermanThe West Australian
Mark McGowan says WA primary school kids won’t have to wear masks next week - but will have to if a large scale outbreak occurs.
Camera IconMark McGowan says WA primary school kids won’t have to wear masks next week - but will have to if a large scale outbreak occurs. Credit: Jackson Flindell/The West Australian

Primary school children will not be expected to wear masks under the McGowan Government’s back-to-school COVID-19 plan unveiled on Tuesday — but they will have to once case numbers start to rise.

Under the plan, only teachers and secondary students in Perth, Peel and the South-west will be required to wear masks when the new school year starts on Monday.

But Premier Mark McGowan said mask wearing would be introduced for primary school aged students from Year 3 when case loads increased.

“We’ve taken every practicable step to ensure schools are as safe as possible in the current environment, for both staff and students,” he said.

“But we retain the capacity to boost measures in the event of a large scale outbreak.”

Neither he nor Education Minister Sue Ellery could say how many daily infections would constitute a “high case load” - the trigger for expanding mask wearing to all students from Year 3 and above.

It comes as 15 new local COVID cases were recorded overnight, including two with no links to previous infections.

Mr McGowan said two people with COVID were in hospital, including one in intensive care — a 61-year-old returned overseas traveller who had been double dose vaccinated.

Under the school settings in place on January 31, any child diagnosed with COVID and their entire household will be required to isolate for two weeks.

Children and teachers who have spent time in a classroom setting with the infected child will also be required to isolate for a fortnight.

Ms Ellery said it was also likely the Chief Health Officer would order any school attended by an infected child to shut for a period of time, as occurred most recently during the northern suburbs outbreak in mid-2021.

Mr McGowan said State Disaster Council would meet Friday to discuss the high case load trigger, as well as changes to isolation requirements and the close contact definition at that point.

The Friday meeting will also discuss the role of rapid antigen testing in schools once high case numbers are reached, with twice weekly surveillance testing of teachers and students — as will occur in NSW and Victoria — one of the options under consideration.

As revealed in The West Australian on Monday, air purifiers with HEPA filters that can capture virus particles will be rolled out to public schools across the State, with more than 12,000 to be supplied.

Education Minister Sue Ellery said 1500 carbon dioxide monitors would also be provided to make sure ventilation in classrooms was satisfactory.

Contractors had inspected classroom windows and air-conditioning systems across 900 schools while students have been on holiday, identifying those that need air purifiers.

Ms Ellery said 97.5 per cent of teachers had provided proof of their vaccination status.

Back-up teachers were ready to temporarily replace school staff who were forced to isolate because they had COVID-19.

Learning contingency plans were in place for remote learning, if that was required, including hardcopy learning packages and access to online learning resources.

Flying squads of cleaners would be available to deep clean schools where required.

Regular visitors to school sites will have to be vaccinated, but parents will not need to have been jabbed to drop off or pick up their children at school, attend assemblies and sports carnivals or have a parent-teacher interview.

Mr McGowan said rapid antigen test kits would not be available in schools because there was no requirement for staff to use them.

“You certainly wouldn’t use rapid antigen tests when you don’t need them,” he said.

He encouraged all parents to book an appointment for their children to get vaccinated.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails