COVID-19 research: Back to school

During 2020, enduring school closures resulted in remote learning and social isolation for many Victorian children, leading to numerous challenges for children, their families and teachers as well. In an effort to get kids back to school, Murdoch Children's was tasked with preparing the COVID-19 in Victorian Schools Report at the request of the Victorian Department of Health (DH) and the Department of Education and Training (DET).

Led by Professor Fiona Russell and Professor Sharon Goldfeld, the team analysed international evidence and Victorian school outbreak data, which informed the return to school in Term 4, 2020. The team continue to work with DH and DET to keep schools open safely and inform how best to manage and monitor future outbreaks using enhanced surveillance. They continue to monitor the mental health and wellbeing of Victorian school children through a variety of work, to provide support and guidance through this crisis and beyond.


Back to school: the evidence behind the return to school and a plan for staying open.

In our first seminar, speakers describe the details of the school report, including the evidence behind the return to school and the plan for staying open. This is followed by a panellist discussion and Q&A. Panellists include the co-authors of the report, Professor Fiona Russell, Dr Kathleen Ryan, Professor Sharon Goldfeld, Professor Margie Danchin and Dr Kathryn Snow. Liana Buchanan, the Commissioner for Children and Young People, also joins the panel.


A guide to safely re-opening Victorian school and early learning centres

The team led by Professor Fiona Russell and Professor Sharon Goldfeld, published the report finding that COVID-19 cases in schools and childcare are mainly driven by community transmission; recommending that off-site learning should be a last resort.

Key findings

  • Of 1 million students enrolled, 337 (0.03 per cent) had an infection linked to a school outbreak
  • 113 known events (involving a single case or more) in childcare with 234 cases potentially acquiring COVID-19 via events linked to childcare
  • 1,635 infections were linked with childcare and schools in some way, out of a total of 19,901 infections in Victoria. Cases associated with schools accounted for eight per cent of all infections in Victoria
  • Testing, tracing and isolation within 48 hours of notification is the most important strategy to prevent an outbreak. In Victoria, the average time between confirmation of the first case in childcare or school and education provider closure was two days. This timely response prevented outbreaks from occurring, as 66 per cent of outbreaks in schools involved just a single infection in a staff member or student, and 91 per cent involved fewer than 10 cases
  • Of 139 infected staff and 373 infected students who may have acquired COVID via a childcare or school outbreak, eight (four staff and four students) were admitted to hospital and all recovered
  • Infections in childcare and schools were rarely linked to infections in the most vulnerable population, the elderly
  • If the first case was a child aged 0-5 years, an outbreak (two or more cases) was very uncommon

COVID-19 Enhanced Surveillance in Schools

Led by Professor Margie Danchin, Murdoch Children's together with the Victorian Department of Health and the Victorian DET is conducting a COVID school study to increase understanding of COVID-19 transmission in schools and Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) services. It is anticipated that the findings from this research will inform the public health response to outbreaks in schools and ECEC services.

The study aims to increase knowledge about key aspects of COVID-19 transmission and the public health response, such as the role of young children and students in COVID-19 transmission and the impact of COVID-19 on school and ECEC communities. This evidence will help to understand how COVID-19 is spread in schools and ECEC, inform the best way to respond to outbreaks, and ensure that children, students and staff are supported and can continue to learn and thrive in 2021.

Associated resources

Associated campus papers

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