From November 8th, schools across Italy are operating under a new set of guidelines with regards to self-isolation requirements in cases where a student or teacher tests positive for the coronavirus.
A communique put out by the Ministry of Education on November 6th states that from Monday, an automatic quarantine requirement for staff and students should be triggered only in the event that three people in a given class test positive for Covid-19, reports the news agency Ansa.
In situations where only one member of the class tests positive, students should continue to come to school, but will need to take a test as soon as possible after their classmate’s infection is discovered and on the fifth day after that.
Where two members test positive, classmates who are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid in the past six months will continue to come to school under the zero and five-day testing regime, while all others will be required to self-isolate.
Until now, an automatic quarantine requirement has been in place in cases where any student or teacher tests positive for the virus, with vaccinated students subject to a seven day self isolation period and the non-vaccinated required to isolate for ten days.
The new measures are intended to try to keep schools open as far as possible as the rate of new Covid infections rises across the country.
Italy’s education minister Patrizio Bianchi had previously said before schools reopened in September that the government would do everything in its power to ensure they would remain open as far as possible, and has put a range of strategies in place to make this happen.
The most significant change this year is the requirement for school staff, external workers, and parents – basically anyone who isn’t a student – to show a green pass in order to gain access to school premises.
The new rule came into effect for school employees on September 1st, and was expanded on September 9th to include external workers such as cleaning company and canteen staff, as well as parents of schoolchildren.
The health certificate proves bearers have been vaccinated with at least one dose, have recovered from Covid-19 within the past six months, or have tested negative in the previous 48-72 hours (depending on the type of test take). Unvaccinated individuals may therefore access school buildings, but must take a pharmacy-administered Covid test every two days at their own expense.
According to the Italian news site Fanpage.it, the Ministry of Education has developed a new ‘super app’ that will allow school principals and administrative staff to automate the process of checking that their staff are complying with the requirement.
Staff who are without passes for five days straight will be suspended and have their pay frozen, while non-staff members caught entering schools without the certificate face fines of up to €1,000.
Many of the safety measures that were in place previously have continued into this school year, including masks for everyone aged over six, staggered entrance and exit times, and quarantine rules for classes with positive cases, as well as the possibility of some classes still being taught online, depending on the health situation in each local area and the rules provided under Italy’s tiered system of restrictions.
Schools are also required to have separate designated entrance and exit zones, and only one parent is allowed to accompany their child directly outside the school building for drop offs and pick ups. Students’ temperatures should be taken as they leave at the end of the school day, but not on arrival.
Social distancing of one metre between each student is no longer a requirement in classrooms which lack the space, as long as other safety measures are observed. The Ministry of Education recommends keeping windows in classroom open, and some schools have invested in new ventilation systems, but it’s been left up to individual institutions to undertake such initiatives.
Towards the start of September, Bianchi said he hoped to remove the mask mandate for fully-vaccinated classes of schoolchildren in the coming weeks and months, despite warnings from some experts that such a move might be premature.
This prospect is now looking increasingly unlikely as the Covid infection rate in Italy has started to climb.
Italy’s health ministry on Friday reported that the Rt number, which shows the rate of transmission, has now risen above the critical threshold of 1 for the first time in months. An Rt number above 1 indicates that the epidemic is in a phase of expansion.
Scientists believe the prevalence of the more infectious Delta variant, colder weather, and an increase in gatherings and travel are all factors contributing to the rise in cases.