Students urged to mask up as Covid cases spike

Students urged to mask up as Covid cases spike

Victorian students have been urged to again wear masks in the classroom as the state records a massive spike in the number of Covid-19 cases.

In April, state’s Health Minister spoke of lifting Covid restrictions if the number of cases were brought under control, but the latest data suggests case numbers are surging. The number of daily cases has now reached 10,000 and the latest data from Victoria’s Health Department shows a 99% increase in Covid-related hospitalisations since June 22.

In a joint letter to parents from bodies representing Victorian public, independent and Catholic schools, students aged eight and over were urged to wear masks in the classroom for their own protection.

“We are asking all students aged 8 and over and all staff in all schools across Victoria to wear masks when in class (except where removing a mask is necessary for clear communication) from now to the end of winter,” the letter stated.

“Students won’t be required or expected to wear masks when outdoors, and this expectation won’t stop student participation in the full range of school activities, including music, sport and performances.”

The Victorian Education Department confirmed that the letter is not a mandate.

“We know masks provide good protection against the transmission of COVID, so – while they're not mandated - we're strongly recommending all staff and students aged 8 and over wear them indoors at school,” A DET spokesperson told The Educator.

“This communication was issued to ensure families and school communities are aware of the recommendation released by the Minister for Health as new variants, as well as a tough flu season, increase respiratory illnesses in the community.”

The spokesperson pointed out that the letter does not constitute a change in the Department’s existing policy on wearing masks and assured schools that work is being done to make classrooms as safe as possible during the latest surge in Covid cases. 

“We’ve done the work to make schools as safe as possible – with an air purifier in every single classroom, more than 99% of teachers triple-vaccinated and a strong recommendation for masks, we’re making schools as safe as they can be in the midst of a pandemic and a nasty flu season.”

Victoria’s Education Minister, Natalie Hutchins, said the broader education sector was consulted about the request before the letter was distributed.

“What we are doing is taking the fresh advice that's come from the Health Minister, and we're making sure that we're doing what we can to make schools as safe as possible in the current environment,” she said.

“We're in the midst of winter. We know that the pandemic is on the rise.”

In a statement today, Independent Schools Victoria echoed the advice, strongly recommending that its member schools implement an indoor face mask requirement for all staff and students from Year 4 and above.

"Since the start of the pandemic Independent schools have overwhelmingly followed official health advice and directives," ISV chief executive, Michelle Green, said.

"Based on their individual circumstances, Independent schools have also acted on their own initiative to implement measures to protect the health and wellbeing of students and staff."