News |

COVID-19 transmission remains low in NSW educational settings, 2020 Term 4 data show

The spread of COVID-19 remained extremely low in NSW schools and early childhood education and care (ECEC) services with onward transmission of only 1.2% in Term 4 2020, the latest data show. The data are consistent with findings from earlier in 2020. 

“The COVID-19 in schools and early childhood education and care services – the Term 4 experience in NSW” report summarises the latest data from an ongoing study by researchers from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) and the University of Sydney, in collaboration with NSW Health and the NSW Department of Education. 

Between 26 September 2020 and 18 December 2020, NSW had a COVID-19 notification rate of 7 cases per 100,000 population, with most cases related to the Northern Beaches cluster in mid-December. During Term 4, schools and ECEC services remained open with high attendance rates of 88%. 

Key findings in Term 4 included:

  • 10 people (nine students and one staff member) at 10 educational settings (six schools and four ECEC services) were confirmed as primary COVID-19 cases who had an opportunity to transmit the virus to others in their school or ECEC service.
  • 1,113 individuals (953 students [86%] and 160 [14%] staff members) were identified as close contacts of these 10 primary cases.
  • There were only 13 secondary cases (12 students and 1 staff member) in 4 of the 10 educational settings (two primary schools and two ECEC services). There was no secondary transmission in secondary schools.

In addition, during the summer holidays, one child from an ECEC service was confirmed as a primary COVID-19 case who was infectious during their attendance. There were 16 close contacts of this case and no secondary cases.

The overall secondary transmission rate was 1.2% (13/1,113) for all educational settings, with no transmission in high schools, 2.3% in primary schools and 0.8% in ECEC services

Dr Archana Koirala, a paediatric infectious disease specialist at NCIRS who is leading the study, noted that the latest results confirm that transmission of COVID-19 in NSW schools and early childhood services remains minimal, especially from children to adults.

Dr Koirala said, “In 2020, we followed every single COVID-19 case in schools and preschools across the state of NSW and found transmission to be consistently low. Continued access to education is important for children. Keeping schools and ECEC services open in NSW during the pandemic has been possible due to comprehensive testing and contact tracing and adherence with COVID Safe practices.” 

She also emphasised that “COVID-19 introduction into the community remains a risk, particularly with the new, more highly transmissible strains, and so it remains important that we continue current strategies, even as the COVID-19 vaccine program begins to roll out.” 

This study will continue in 2021 to monitor transmission of COVID-19 in educational settings. 

For full report, visit 

NCIRS reports and publications 

Terms 1, 2 and 3 reports

Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Australian educational settings: a prospective cohort study – data from the first wave of COVID-19 published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.

Read full study here

Declaration: Term 1 data are published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. Additional data for Term 2, 3 and 4, using the same methodology are available on the NCIRS website. These data have not yet been submitted for publication or peer-review.

NCIRS media contact