Auckland Grammar principal slams 'misinformation' about the school's COVID-19 scare

The head of Auckland Grammar says there has been a lot of "misinformation" about the impact COVID-19 is having on the school.

The parents of one of the prestigious school's students are in self-isolation after contracting the virus, two of five confirmed cases in New Zealand to date. 

The student is also in self-isolation.

"They've done absolutely everything right," principal Tim O'Connor told The AM Show on Monday. "The boy never showed any signs of COVID-19 prior to self-isolation and continues to be well."

Despite fears early in the virus' spread, it's now believed infected patients yet to develop symptoms cannot pass the virus on to others.

"As I understand it from health officials, you need to be showing symptoms in order to spread it," said O'Connor, saying there has been wrong information being spread, causing "unreasonable levels of fear and anxiety" amongst students and parents.

Some parents had contacted the school asking if their uniform policy allowed for the wearing of facemasks. 

"No. Do not turn up to school wearing a facemask," said O'Connor.

"Wearing a facemask is not a sensible preventative measure. The only time you would want to wear a facemask is one, you'd wear a viral facemask if you had coronavirus - and at that point in time, you should be self-isolated."

Auckland Grammar School.
Auckland Grammar School. Photo credit: Getty

Regular surgical masks are good at keeping the droplets which carry the virus in, but are useless for keeping them out. They're not very thick, they don't cling to the face very closely and have to be discarded once they're damp, which can happen quite quickly when covering the mouth.

Thicker N95 masks are effective, but they have to be fitted correctly and are uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time.

"I know that I can wear them when I need to for about a half-hour," William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, told Live Science last week. "But then, I have to go out of the isolation room, take it off and take some deep breaths, kind of cool off, before I can go back in."

Praise for officials' response

O'Connor said the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health have been "superb" in the advice and help they've been giving to schools.

"I think the general public should have, and parents should have, absolute faith that if there was a pandemic situation... their communication with us has been outstanding."

One message he wants to get through to his students as that even though they're at minimal risk of contracting or dying from COVID-19, they have a "social responsibility" to ensure they take efforts to avoid it.

"Our job in schools is for us to give the messaging to boys, get on with life but take it seriously because here are elderly and ill in our community who could catch COVID-19, so let's wash our hands for 20 seconds, let's not share drink bottles, let's use tissues and dispose of them." 

O'Connor said there were no plans to cancel school assemblies, saying they're the best way to get correct information about the virus so students, and there are also no plans yet to cancel the upcoming Maadi Cup school rowing regatta, scheduled for March 25.

"If the students and staff going all show responsible behaviour... there is no reason for it to be cancelled."