SINGAPORE: Four students and one non-teaching staff member have tested positive for COVID-19, as part of the Ministry of Health's (MOH) extended surveillance testing.
The five are not a cluster, said the Ministry of Education (MOE) on Sunday (Jun 7), as they are from five different schools - Anglican High School, CHIJ Katong Convent, CHIJ St Theresa’s Convent, Geylang Methodist Secondary School and Hwa Chong Institution.
All five displayed mild symptoms.
“While positive, the tests for all five cases revealed low viral loads. A repeat test using new samples showed that all five cases were negative,” said MOE in a press release.
“The evidence suggests that they were likely infected during the circuit breaker period, and not after school reopening.”
The cases were picked up as a result of surveillance testing, conducted since Jun 2, on all school employees and students above the age of 12 who were diagnosed with acute respiratory infection when they first saw a doctor for illness.
Speaking to reporters, Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung said that the five cases tested negative on Saturday, adding that they can be discharged if they produce another negative test on Sunday.
“So MOH has based on all this evidence, their assessment is that they are not likely to be infectious currently, or when they were in school," he said.
The Hwa Chong Institution student was last in school on Apr 7, before the start of the “circuit breaker” period.
Three of the other cases were last in school on Jun 3, and one went to school on Jun 2.
Schools had reopened on Jun 2 after about two months of full home-based learning during the circuit breaker period.
READ: MOE to review how to 'blend' classroom and digital online learning as schools reopen after COVID-19 circuit breaker
LEAVE OF ABSENCE, HOME QUARANTINE
Contact tracing and investigations are ongoing, said MOE.
A total of 29 staff members and 100 students who were in contact with the confirmed cases in school have been issued a 14-day leave of absence or home quarantine order.
“Those who are on HQO (home quarantine order) will also be swabbed for COVID-19 twice – once before the start of HQO, and once at the end of HQO," said MOE.
The learning arrangements for all schools, including the five affected schools, will remain unchanged, the ministry added.
Responding to questions about parents who may be concerned about schools remaining open, Mr Ong noted that schools continue to have an “entire suite of safe management measures”, and all the contacts of any confirmed cases will be on leave of absence or home quarantine order.
“As we step out and exit circuit breaker, and we step up our testing regime, we will from time to time discover new cases and have to quarantine more people. This is actually indicative that our strategy is working, that we are able to pick up the cases early, segregate them, isolate them, quarantine the rest, so that our schools remain as safe as possible,” the minister said.
“COVID-19 will be here for a while - one year, two years, maybe more. And these are all part and parcel of our gradual learning journey to live with COVID-19 safely.”
MOE will consider closing a school if there is a cluster within the school, said Mr Ong, although this has not happened.
Although safe management measures have been “very consistently applied” throughout all schools, the confirmed cases are “a good reminder for all schools to not be complacent”, he added.
Apart from the five cases announced by MOE, the Health Ministry also reported one case from Ascensia International School in its daily preliminary update on COVID-19 cases.
The five cases announced by MOE on Sunday are well and “making good progress” recovery, said MOH’s director of medical services Kenneth Mak.
One student experienced the onset of symptoms on May 31, and the remaining students and non-teaching staff member reported that symptoms had started between Jun 2 and Jun 4.
“If we remember, it takes a while between the time a person is exposed to the virus to actually manifesting with symptoms and this may be, on average, something between four and six days,” said Assoc Prof Mak.
“It is highly likely that all of them had the exposure to the virus before the circuit breaker period ended. And then, only after the circuit breaker period had ended did they manifest their symptoms.”
Responding to questions about why only children above the age of 12 are undergoing surveillance testing, Assoc Prof Mak said MOH recognises that there are “difficulties in imposing such a strategy across the board”.
Adding that it can be an “emotionally trying experience” for the student, parents and the individual carrying out the test, he said that MOH has decided it “might be more appropriate” to be “more selective and targeted” in its surveillance, since the current risk of community spread is low.
“We will be testing students below the age of 12 with symptoms as they present to doctors, and if these tests cannot be done by a general practitioner in his clinic, these students will be referred to the hospital where more experienced people, experienced in looking after children can then do that test.
“We are going to also look at children below the age of 12, but it would be for symptomatic children, and we will not be routinely performing the swab tests for asymptomatic children, below that age.”