News National Children are back at school, but what about coughs and colds amid coronavirus?
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Children are back at school, but what about coughs and colds amid coronavirus?

Schools are taking extra precautions to keep all students safe as they returned on Tuesday. Photo: ABC News
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Runny noses are common in young children, and usually nothing to worry about.

But as students return to classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic, should parents be concerned if their kids come home with sore throats or sniffles – and what should they do?

Restrictions might be easing in states and territories, but that has also been accompanied by messages about the need to avoid complacency.

Some families might be confused about the rules, including single-parent families wanting to get back to work.

So, what’s the current advice from health professionals and schools about children with coughs and colds?

Better to be safe than sorry

While children who are sick are typically encouraged to stay home, health authorities have taken the view that, amid coronavirus, it’s better to be overly cautious.

Specific recommendations might differ between states, but authorities are urging parents to get children with coughs, colds, fevers, loss of smell and other symptoms checked.

“If parents believe their child is showing cold or flu-like symptoms they should take them to get tested for coronavirus,” a spokesperson for Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services said.

Students line up to have their temperature checked. A woman points a device at a students forehead.
Temperature checks for students have been part of increased safety measures. Photo: ABC

The advice in other states is similar.

“If a child is unwell, parents and carers are advised (to) not send them to school,” the NSW Department of Education has said.

A Queensland Heath spokesperson has advised parents to “keep their child away from school if they are showing any signs or symptoms of illness”.

“A runny nose, sore throat, scratchy throat, bit of a cough – I really want you to stay at home, don’t go near anybody else and get yourself tested for COVID-19,” South Australia’s chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier said.

“Keep up the cough etiquette, (with) sneezes and coughs into your elbow.”

What about parents and teachers?

Getting children tested is one thing, but the question of what parents of sick kids should do – and whether they need to isolate as they await their children’s test results – is slightly more complicated.

In Victoria, for example, the advice is that “all members of the household should self-isolate until test results are confirmed”.

But in Queensland, parents have been advised they “will only need to self-isolate if they are showing symptoms”, while South Australian authorities have said “the rest of the household does not need to self-isolate during this time, if they are well”.

A doctor in protective gear talks to a woman outside a coronavirus testing clinic
Clinics are continuing to test people with symptoms. Photo: AAP
This echoes current federal advice.

If your child gets sick while at school or pre-school, it is likely you’ll get a call to come and collect them.

Teachers may even have an obligation to alert parents.

“If an educator or staff member suspects a child in their care is unwell with a contagious illness, they must notify the parent or guardian,” Queensland Health said.

“The parent or guardian must collect the child as soon as possible, and the child must not return to the school or early childhood service until they are well, or enough time has passed that they are not contagious.”

What are schools doing?

Ms Millard said schools have increased their cleaning and hand-washing protocols for staff and students.

Some have also been conducting temperature checks to monitor the health of students.

Remote learning online remains an option in some states, even though it has slowly reduced as more and more children have returned to classrooms.

Two students participating in school from home.
Two students participating in school from home. Photo: Lisa Ireland
South Australia’s Education Department expects it won’t be long before it’s even more integrated into teachers’ practices.

“We have the vast majority of our kids in class and learning … so most of our students and young people are moving forward,” Ms Millard said.

“(But) the research is currently telling us that online learning will supplement face-to-face learning.

“It will increasingly become part of the landscape of every single student.”

-ABC