“Security phase”: What the next school year should look like

Concrete regulations for tests and masks should not be established until August. At the start of school, however, intensive tests are carried out – in order to exclude infected travelers returning to the school, according to the Education Minister.

How will the schools guarantee a safe start to school in autumn? By starting with a “security phase”, as Minister of Education Heinz Faßmann (ÖVP) announced at a press conference on Monday at the start of the last week of school. At the start in autumn there will be tests for pupils, teachers and administrative staff to prevent infected people returning to school. Whether regular tests have to be carried out after this “safety phase” depends – just like the rules for wearing a mask – on the infection situation.

With vaccinations, testing and wearing a mask, there are three tools to make school operations safe in times of Corona. “You can’t say anything about the respective mixing ratio yet,” said Faßmann at the appointment at the Bundesgymnasium Zehnergasse in Wiener Neustadt, where artists such as Pizzera and Jaus and DJ Ötzi then performed at a “school closing concert” broadcast live by Orf 1. In any case, further concrete measures should be announced in August, when the infection rate can be better estimated.

Are you still testing regularly?

The motto “As much normality as possible, as much security as necessary” will apply again for autumn, according to Faßmann. The tests begin in the first two weeks of school, with rapid antigen tests or the more reliable PCR tests being used, depending on availability and acceptance.

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As for tests during the school year, Faßmann wants to set limit values ​​for the tests together with the Ministry of Health. Regionally limited measures may also be conceivable. In any case, over the summer all students should be given five test kits to take home with them so that they can test themselves if they feel sick or want to meet people who are particularly at risk.

Faßmann also campaigned again to take advantage of vaccination offers. If necessary, larger school locations could be used as vaccination centers, says Faßmann. In addition, the ministry – also together with the religious communities – wants to educate parents about vaccinations.

What about the mask requirement?

Faßmann was reluctant to wear a mask: in a study by the Austrian Society for Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (ÖGKJ) in 15,000 households, eight out of ten respondents rated the test strategy (three antigen self-tests per week) as positive, while two-thirds of parents had given them to wear a mask all the time felt as a great burden.

He will therefore discuss with the Ministry of Health when it is appropriate to wear a mask in the coming school year. He can also envision establishing an early warning system for this, but that could work differently than the last school-gurgling study carried out, for example via wastewater analysis, so Faßmann when asked.

The question of whether air purifiers should be used in schools has not yet been conclusively clarified. Talks are still ongoing with environmental medicine specialists, school maintainer and the Bundesimmobiliengesellschaft (BIG). “We have to be convinced that it will help, because it is an expensive measure.”

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Compulsory vaccination for teaching staff is not provided

For Faßmann, vaccination is not an issue for the time being, as the City of Vienna wants to provide for new employees in the Vienna Health Association, social institutions and kindergartens. The teachers are part of the public service, “I cannot imagine going it alone with the teachers,” said the minister. However, Faßmann would like to find out together with the Ministry of Health what the vaccination rate actually looks like among teachers.

Looking back on the past school year, which included everything from an almost normal school start to complete closings, the minister referred to various initiatives in his house for safe school operations, such as mobile medical teams for the rapid clarification of suspected cases, early vaccination offers for teachers up to the antigen self-test systematically used in schools for the first time in Austria. From Faßmann’s point of view, the latter were also “an important instrument for breaking the third wave”, since they also indirectly reached groups with the parents that could otherwise hardly be tested. The test strategy also made it possible to keep the schools open since February.

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