Schools should return as soon as possible because children have a low risk of severe COVID-19 but suffer from a heavy toll learning at home, medical experts have warned.
The ACT recorded 13 new cases on Wednesday as deputy chief health officer Vanessa Johnston said planning was under way to eliminate the need for school closures.
Canberra's year 12 students will return to school from term 4, followed by year 11 on October 18, but younger students have not been given a return date.
"I wouldn't say that we have projected for schools to go back a lot later down down the line. I just think the planning is still under way and there'll be more to be said about that," Dr Johnston said.
Infectious disease physician Dr Nick Coatsworth said on social media that face-to-face schooling was safe with high adult vaccination rates.
"As we keep schools shut whilst we vaccinate adults, we need to emphasise to parents the mild nature of COVID in children, and consider the harms that prolonged schools closures cause," he said.
Dr Archana Koirala of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance and Nepean Hospital said her recent study on the delta variant in schools and early childhood services in Sydney showed lower rates of transmission compared to households.
"We're going to have to live with this virus and schooling is important," Dr Koirala said.
"Other countries overseas have reopened schools with much higher rates of community transmission with the layered mitigation strategies and using vaccination. So yes, I'd really like schools to open as soon as possible."
Dr Koirala said staying at home could affect children's social development and cause low moods, while one OECD study suggested students affected by school closures could have their lifetime earnings decrease by 3 per cent.
Dr Johnston said the reopening plan would take into account the impact on learning for different year levels and the social and emotional wellbeing of students.
"It's absolutely true that the evidence suggests that severity in children is reduced compared to adults," Dr Johnston said.
"But it's also absolutely true that we have seen significant outbreaks in primary schools and early learning centres more so, I think, than high schools here in the ACT and in other jurisdictions."
Dr Johnston said she expected the vast majority of teachers to be fully vaccinated by the time they returned to work and a vaccine mandate wouldn't be necessary to achieve that.
She said a detailed return plan would aim to reduce the time schools need to shut down and number of people affected if a positive case is found on campus.
"What we're hoping to do is to put in measures that are going to sort of reduce significantly mixing and mingling of teachers and students such that hopefully into the future we don't necessarily have to see a whole school shut down, but it may be classes, it may be cohorts," Dr Johnston said.
She said work on improving ventilation in schools had started following the black summer bushfires.
"There are other discussions around how we might move to, particularly during the summer months where weather allows, outdoor learning," she said.
Dr Koirala's study found that most children with COVID-19 had no or mild symptoms. The students who were very unwell had underlying conditions and tended to be older adolescents.
"It's really important that people get vaccinated because the children are not in school primarily to protect adults," she said.
Dr Koirala said when schools returned to face-to-face teaching there would be an increase in COVID-19 transmission in school settings.
"That's why it's really important that we implement other measures to decrease that, such as mask use, keeping parents off site and staggering timetables, and that will help decrease the spread," she said.
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