Spotlight on: Stamina

31 July 2020

This article first appeared in Queenwood News Weekly 31 July2020. 

I had planned to write on another topic this week but, once again, the latest COVID-19 developments demand attention.

A few weeks ago, we were in a very different situation in NSW; yet as I write the virus is creeping closer. I am full of admiration for the management of this crisis so far by our medicos, public health experts and political leaders. Are they perfect? No. But in NSW we have been exceptionally well-served so far. Nevertheless, Victoria’s difficulties a month ago looked similar to ours now, and are an ominous warning against complacency.

There are some encouraging features. The level of community transmission (i.e. infection by unknown source) is still low in New South Wales, and the track and trace system appears to be keeping up. There have been only a handful of cases in northern Sydney in the last few months and, so far, no community transmission since April. The risk is rising, however, with infectious people having visited locations close to Queenwood in the past few days. The lesson from Victoria also seems to be that the single biggest contributor to the spread has been non-compliance with the advice and regulations. Social issues like insecure work are playing a role, but human beings also seem to lack stamina when it comes to maintaining the precautions required.

In our school community, we have high levels of health literacy and compliance but our observations suggest a few potential weak points:

  • Young people have been responsible in many places across the world for widespread transmission. They socialise more frequently and in larger groups, are less likely to observe social distancing and more likely to take risks because they are less fearful of catching COVID-19. Getting the message through to our students has not been easy and teachers have heard some alarming stories, particularly from senior girls, about their recent social habits and risk taking. Perhaps the stories are mere boast – I hope so, but we cannot ignore them.

    At the beginning of term, I attempted to break through any complacency, reminding the senior girls that they, of all people, will be worst affected if the school goes into lockdown and the economy suffers in the longer term. I would like to think the message sank in, but experience tells us that teenagers struggle to connect actions and consequences. If their stories are accurate (and they may not be), we can only assume that some parents are unaware of what their daughters are doing. For the sake of our girls and the community, please be vigilant and do not allow your daughters to attend large gatherings or take any other unnecessary risks.

  • Families are being proactive about getting their daughters tested for COVID-19 when they show any symptoms of illness. This is extremely helpful. There are concerns, however, that girls are coming to school when members of their household are still awaiting test results. The rules for self-isolation whilst awaiting results are strict and almost impossible to maintain for children.

    Given these difficulties, the School’s policy is that students should not attend school if any member of the household is awaiting COVID-19 test results.

  • Girls who have been unwell should not return to school until they are free of symptoms, even if they have tested negative for COVID-19. This reduces the transmission of sickness to others along with the inconvenience of isolation and missing school.

  • Parents should check the latest information about case locations daily. In the last 24 hours, infectious cases in shops and gyms in St Leonards and Crows Nest have been reported. This underlines the need to avoid unnecessary travelling, socialising and other mixing in public.

  • Girls should wear masks when using public transport, as per government advice. Girls on the Q buses are invited to wear masks but as this does not involve mixing with the general public, it is not mandatory.

  • A contributing factor to Victoria’s trouble has been the mildness of COVID-19 symptoms in many, which tempts them to continue going to work (and school). Please continue to be vigilant: those with symptoms, no matter how mild, should stay home and get tested.

  • We appreciate that these heightened precautions will cause some inconvenience to families, but we believe it is warranted in the interests of everyone’s safety. We need and value your support as we strive to reduce the risk of infection and severe disruption.

My communications with the girls and school community have been dominated by sombre warnings in recent months. I wouldn’t blame anyone who is sick of hearing these messages. I dislike them too and would prefer to change the subject but if it preserves us all from later news of lockdowns and illness and worse, it will be worth it. We will do our best to encourage and support everyone so we can all sustain the measures that protect us all, and especially the most vulnerable.

The advantage of the compliance so far by Queenwood families is that, overall, absences are lower at this stage of the year than in 2019. Even though girls are staying home for mild illness and have to go into isolation awaiting test results, they are missing less school than usual because the normal winter colds and flus are not being brought into and spread throughout the school. The bottom line is that, thanks to hand washing and physical distancing and isolating when sick, the school population is much healthier than usual at the moment – as is the Australian population as a whole. Long may that continue.

Ms Elizabeth Stone