Guide for isolating in school hostels

Guide for isolating in school hostels

This guidance has been prepared by Manatū Hauora | the Ministry of Health in consultation with Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga | the Ministry of Education and public health units. 


This guidance is to be used in the event a boarder or staff member at a school hostel tests positive for COVID-19 and how they can safely isolate in the facility. It also provides proactive steps that can be taken to ensure the facility is safe for others living there.

Information sharing and privacy

Provision of information relating to those that may have been exposed to COVID-19 is important for controlling transmission of the virus, as outlined in the Health Act. Personal information will not be disclosed.

Contact information is protected under the Health Information Privacy Code and other law. Any concerns about the privacy of health information can be directed to the District Health Board privacy officer or the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. 

Key principles

  • Business continuity planning will need to include how to respond to cases whether in staff or boarders.
  • Plans should address additional health, disability and wider wellbeing needs identified as part of existing proactive monitoring of wellbeing and safety.
  • Hostels need to implement robust infection control measures to minimise the spread of COVID-19. Measures will vary depending on the risk context for the hostel at the time and can include airing out rooms in between use by different groups, using only rooms which are well-ventilated, grouping boarders so that they do not intermingle with other groups, staggering mealtimes, etc.
  • Boarders and staff living in the hostel who are identified as a confirmed case will be required to isolate for 7 days.
  • Anyone from the hostel who is a close contact of that case, is not required to isolate.
  • Anyone in the hostel, including close contacts of a confirmed case, who is symptomatic (even if only very mild symptoms) must be encouraged to get tested for COVID-19
  • When cases do arise, isolating offsite is possible including returning boarders to their homes, however public transport cannot be used
  • There will be a number of boarders who will need to remain isolating in the hostel as they cannot safely return to their home, including international students. Planning must take this into account
  • Where cases isolate at the hostel:
    • They should be separated as much as is practicable from others.
    • Cases can isolate together.
  • Supporting boarders’ and staff health and wellbeing continues to be a priority.

Minimising transmission of COVID-19

Risk assessment

Regular review of health and safety plans including risk assessment, is good practice for hostel management. 

Are there measures in place that, as far as reasonably practicable, provide for the health and safety of workers and do not put people at risk from the work that is being carried out in the hostel?

You should undertake an assessment in consultation with your workers, their representatives, and any other relevant parties such as parents and those in your wider hostel community. 

Once the controls have been implemented, they must be regularly monitored and reviewed to ensure they are effective.

More information about risk assessment and planning

COVID-19 Liaison

Hostels should appoint a COVID-19 liaison person, and at least one backup, to assist with a timely response and ensure the case is best supported during their isolation. This person could be a conduit between public health and the case if required and work with the case on how best to support them during their isolation.


Provide staff, boarders, parents and caregivers with information on what they can do to be prepared if they become a case and who they should seek support from within the facility. It’s important that they know who to advise at the first sign of feeling unwell.

If there are concerns someone may be showing symptoms of COVID-19, support the person to get tested. Call Healthline’s dedicated COVID-19 enquiries which is available 24/7 – 0800 358 5453 or search for a testing service near you.

COVID-19 Testing – Healthpoint

For information regarding self-isolation requirements and testing, go to the Ministry of Health website.

Advice for people with COVID-19 – Ministry of Health


Fire alarms and other emergencies may require you to either evacuate your buildings or move everyone inside. The priority in these situations is keeping boarders and staff safe from the threat of the emergency event – fire, flood, earthquake etc.

Infection prevention and control precautions

The following measures can assist to minimise spread of COVID-19. Some may be introduced when your risk assessment determines more measures are needed, including when case numbers are higher in your hostel or the school community.

Consider measures which will remain in place as good practice, versus those which may be re-introduced as risk of harm from transmission increases. 

Mask wearing

Masks are not legally required to be worn by boarders in any hostel setting. However, your hostel policy may require them to be worn in communal areas when there is COVID-19 circulating in the school community.

Wear a face mask – Unite against COVID-19

Physical distancing

Physical distancing is not a requirement in the traffic light system; however, a 1-metre distance is recommended wherever practicable when inside, particularly between adults. It is still worthwhile keeping a safe distance from people you do not know while out and about. This will help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

Shared bedrooms

For shared bedrooms, identify rooms that could be used to temporarily separate boarders if they become unwell and need to isolate.

Any areas used for separation should still have access to bathrooms and provisions for meals, and laundry, as they will not be able to join the common areas.

Shared bathrooms

Consider assigning bathrooms to different groups, implementing capacity limits and staggered access arrangements. Ensure there are adequate hygiene supplies and regular cleaning.

Access to dining facilities

If case numbers are increasing, grouping boarders and staggering access to dining facilities  so that groups do not intermingle is recommended. 

Building exit and entry points

Separating exit and entry points in and out of the building to minimise contact can help minimise transmission. Physical barriers and dedicated pathways can be used to reduce or eliminate exposure of others in the building.

Foyer and waiting areas

Physical distancing of at least 1 metre should be encouraged for entry foyer and waiting areas. Consider removing seats from lobbies or waiting areas to discourage people from congregating. Where seating is required, space it at least 1 metre apart.

Lifts and stairwells

Boarders should be encouraged to use stairwells when available and if accessibility allows, as there is a larger air space and greater ability to maintain physical distancing than in lifts. In the event of using a lift, boarders should be encouraged to maintain a minimum of 1-metre physical distancing while waiting for a lift as well as once in the lift or limiting the use of the lift to one person at a time.

The use of floor markings at lift entrances to prompt users to maintain physical distancing while waiting for the lift and encourage one-way flow to avoid bottlenecks occurring near lift entrance points.


Maintain good ventilation in common areas within the building to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission by opening windows or leaving doors open (where safe to do so).

For guidance on ventilation systems go to our ventilation page. 

Other common areas

These areas must not be accessed at any time by a case during the isolation period.

Where common areas such as gyms, recreational areas, lounges are kept open, boarder safety can be supported by clearly signposting capacity limits (based on the maximum number of people who could occupy the space if each person was 1 metre apart). Signage that encourages mask wearing is also recommended.

To minimise possible interactions between staff and boarders you may choose to allot specific common areas to different groups of boarders.

Ensure the provision of adequate hygiene facilities and supplies, including soap, running water and hand sanitiser.


Effective cleaning and decontamination procedures are important to ensure removal of pathogens from the environment. There should be processes in place to ensure that environmental cleaning and disinfection procedures are followed consistently and correctly.

Regularly cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces - such as intercoms and lift buttons, hand railings and common area door handles - can reduce the spread of germs between residents.

For further information, go to the Ministry of Health website.

COVID-19: General cleaning and disinfection advice – Ministry of Health


In rooms where a person with COVID-19 is isolating, only emergency work is to be carried out. Use of PPE by tradespeople is mandatory when carrying out the work in the room of a case isolating. The case in the room must use a mask and maintain physical distance from the tradesperson whilst they are in the unit. Tradespeople must wear the appropriate PPE, be captured in a visitor register as is normal practice, and maintain good hygiene.

Workers may enter other rooms, as well as common property areas of the building, to carry out work. If possible, the rooms or common areas of the building should be unoccupied while the work is being carried out. Where multiple areas of work need to occur, prioritise working in areas where boarders are not isolating, working in areas where isolation is occurring last. This helps to ensure they separate workspace requirements and can safely remove PPE at the end of the work event before exiting the site.

Supporting a symptomatic person

If someone is showing cold, flu or COVID-19 symptoms, they should get a test for COVID-19.

You can call:

  • your doctor or nurse
  • Healthline for free on 0800 358 5453
  • your iwi health provider, or
  • a community-based testing location.

The person will need to be isolated while waiting for medical advice.

Support the unwell person to get tested. Some health centres may request they wait in the car or a specific waiting area. It is strongly recommended they wear a mask when they go for a test and they should isolate while waiting for the results.

Check for a testing service near you:

COVID-19 Testing – Healthpoint

Accessing testing

Rapid antigen tests (or RATs) have been distributed around the country to hostels, testing sites, GPs, pharmacies and workplaces, and are now the primary form of testing. PCR testing will be reserved for those who need it.

If a student or staff member is symptomatic and needs to get tested, you will be able to use the supply of tests that has been provided. If none are available, you can order RAT kits through the link below, for collection from a nearby Community Testing Centre. It is recommended that someone collect the tests on behalf of the symptomatic person.

Request a RAT | Ministry of Health

For a list of all testing sites please visit Healthpoint.

COVID-19 Testing – Healthpoint

For more information about testing, go to the Ministry of Health website. 

Assessment and testing for COVID-19 – Ministry of Health

Opt-in asymptomatic testing

Rapid antigen test kits (RAT kits) have been distributed to school hostels to allow an opt-in scheme for twice weekly asymptomatic testing for staff.

This was a short-term measure to complement those already in place (including vaccination, face masks, sound hygiene practices and ventilation) during the peak of Omicron in a region. This scheme will finish at the end of Term 3 (September). 

If you choose to opt into asymptomatic testing, staff should test themselves twice weekly, a minimum of three days apart.  Any staff member who has recently recovered from a COVID-19 infection (ie within the last 90 days) should not participate in asymptomatic testing, as the test is likely to detect traces of the virus from the earlier infection. Testing is voluntary. If a person does have symptoms, they should complete a test immediately, outside of the twice weekly scheme.

Responding to a positive COVID-19 case

How will I know if a boarder/staff member tests for positive?

While public health units may still contact you to advise of a case in your hostel, it is most likely that the boarder or staff member will first notify you.  Please remind all your boarders and staff to quickly contact you, should they test positive for COVID-19.

For PCR tests they will receive a text message confirming their result.

Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) can provide a result quickly (usually around 20 minutes).  If they are receiving a supervised RAT at a Community Testing Centre or other health provider, staff will enter the result into the Ministry of Health’s confidential database and My COVID Record.

People without access to a mobile phone or a website will be contacted by their Care Coordination Hub, or a primary care, Māori, iwi or Pacific health provider.

People who test positive for COVID-19 will be sent an online case investigation form to complete about their infectious period and where they have been during this time. They will be asked to notify you that they are positive.  

Case management

You may need to isolate the case or cases in your hostel for a period of time, which could include the entire length of their isolation period. 

Ensure that you:

  • Support the case to ensure their health and welfare needs are met. If symptoms worsen do not hesitate to seek medical attention. Advise emergency services that the person requiring treatment is a COVID-19 case.
  • Maintain confidentiality – this is private health information, and it should not be shared with anyone else unless absolutely necessary. Otherwise, you must not share it with anyone except public health officials, if required.

Sending cases home to isolate

While cases can continue to isolate safely in your hostel, cases can also be transported to their home to isolate if it is safe to do so, providing that the case is well enough to travel.

They must not take public transport but take a private vehicle and drive directly home with no stopping.

If the case cannot transport themselves by private vehicle, to minimise contact only one individual (driver) should collect the case. Masks must be worn by both parties and the case should sit in the back of the car behind the passenger seat to physically distance as much as possible. If possible, windows should be open to allow for ventilation. A case cannot travel home if they will be required to stay somewhere overnight.

People travelling home to isolate need to make as few stops as possible, so they should think about: 

  • The route they will take.
  • How they would get fuel – they should only stop at a contactless petrol station.
  • Supplies they might need for the journey home to reduce the number of stops made, including supplies to treat COVID-19 symptoms.

Supporting a confirmed case/s in your hostel

You will need to isolate the case away from others. This means:

  • Their own well-ventilated room.
  • Having food and essential items delivered to the room (see notes below with regards to protocol).
  • Supporting their health and wellbeing.
  • Having access to private bathroom facilities.
  • Not being able to join others in common areas.

If you have more than one confirmed case identified at the same time (i.e., a cluster of cases), they can isolate together.

Shared bathrooms

Where possible, those isolating should have their own bathroom. If this isn’t possible then keeping people in groups/bubbles with no contact outside the bubble, and judicious cleaning between the case and others is required to reduce the risk of transmission.

Access to dining facilities

It is strongly recommended that you prepare meals and deliver them to cases in isolation so that they do not enter communal spaces.

Wash items such as dishes, drinking glasses, cups and eating utensils in the dishwasher (you should use a commercial cleaner if you have one) or use soap/detergent and water to wash them thoroughly.

Food, medicines and support

To provide medicines, food or other deliveries for the case, goods should be placed outside their door, and only collected by the case when the delivery person has left, and there is no one passing by.

The case will need to wear a mask when they open their door to pick up the delivery. 

It is important that corridors are clear, and doors of other rooms are closed when the case opens their door. This is to reduce the risk of a vacuum being created and generating air flow to move droplets in the environment. For that same reason, the windows in the case’s room should be closed before opening the door into the corridor, and then re-opened again when back inside the room.

More information for confirmed cases is available on the Ministry of Health website.

Advice for people with COVID-19 – Ministry of Health


The case should close the window prior to opening the bedroom door to exit. This is to prevent a draught (including viral particles) from entering shared corridors.


Balconies have various layouts, and the use of the balcony by a case is dependent on others not being on the balcony at the same time. Balconies may be accessed if they are at least 1 metre distanced from other balconies.

For a case isolating, it is advised to have the doors to the balcony open to allow the circulation of air into the room.

Management of waste disposal and laundry

A case will be unable to leave their room to dispose of rubbish and do their laundry. Have processes in place to support them with this.

  • The case will need to double bag their rubbish or laundry and wear a mask when placing it outside their door when there is no one present in the hallway or corridor.
  • Only when they are back inside with the door closed should someone collect it and take it directly to the building’s shared waste disposal area.
  • The person collecting the rubbish or laundry should wear single use gloves and a mask and thoroughly wash and dry their hands afterwards.
  • Dirty laundry that has been in contact with a sick person can be washed with other people’s items. Do not shake dirty laundry to minimise the possibility of dispersing the virus.
  • Use clothing detergent – wash items using the warmest water temperature the clothing and bed linen can withstand.

How to safely clean your home after COVID-19 diagnosis – Ministry of Health


In rooms where a person with COVID-19 is isolating, only emergency work is to be carried out. Use of PPE by tradespeople is mandatory when carrying out the work in the room of a case isolating. The case in the room must use a face covering and maintain physical distance from the tradesperson whilst they are in the unit.

Leaving isolation

Cases will need to isolate for 7 days.  

In some circumstances they may have some mild, longer-term symptoms such as a cough, tiredness, loss of smell etc. This is common and as long as they have completed their isolation period, does not mean they are still infectious.

After you have had COVID-19 – Unite against COVID-19

Cleaning the facility

To ensure the safety of the other residents, you should thoroughly clean and disinfect all areas used by the person who tested positive for COVID-19, as this will kill the virus that causes COVID-19. It is recommended that cleaning is left for 24 hours after the case has vacated the area, and that a face covering is worn and windows where they exist are opened. 

Any surfaces that are frequently touched should be prioritised for cleaning, such as door handles, handrails, light switches, horizontal surfaces such as counter tops and tables, EFTPOS machines, touch screens, taps, sinks and toilets.

Clean surfaces like kitchen benches and sink tops. Air out shared spaces like staff rooms or lunch rooms and keep them well ventilated.

There's further information available in the Ministry of Health website.

How to safely clean your home after COVID-19 diagnosis – Ministry of Health

Close contacts

While the close contact definition hasn’t changed, there is no legal requirement for close contacts to isolate.

You may still wish to identify close contacts of the confirmed case in your hostel so that they are aware they are a close contact, so that they are very proactive in monitoring their own health.

Close contacts living in the hostel are recommended to get a test if they develop any COVID-19 symptoms and isolate until a negative test result AND until 24 hours after symptoms resolve

If the close contact returns a positive test result, they become a ‘case’ and need to isolate for 7 days from either the day of symptom onset or the day they get a positive result;  whichever is earlier.

Identifying close contacts

You can work with the case to identify who from your hostel has been in close contact with that case when at the hostel during their infectious period.

Discuss with your school the approach to close contacts in a school setting and whether they will be notified, or not, that they are a close contact.

Close contacts of the case in the hostel should be reminded to monitor closely for any symptoms.

When someone is a COVID-19 positive case, their infectious period should be assumed to be from 48 hours before their symptoms started until medical clearance (at least 7 days of self-isolation). If a case has no symptoms, they should generally be assumed infectious from 48 hours before the initial test.

Identifying close contacts should focus on those most at risk of infection because of the ongoing exposure they have had to the case when they were infectious. For example those sleeping very near to the case, especially if the room is not well ventilated, or the friends the case connects with most frequently when indoors.

What do I tell other residents/staff?

Advise residents and staff of the general situation. In some situations, it is unavoidable that the person with COVID-19 will be identifiable. In this situation, always remind other staff and boarders that the privacy and confidentiality of the person who tested positive for COVID-19 must be maintained.

Manaaki/Welfare for those isolating

You will continue to be responsible for ensuring boarders have access to health care and other support services.

  • Ensure boarders, live-in staff, and their families know how to contact their COVID-19 liaison for assistance.
  • Ensure isolating boarders and live-in staff have the tools and resources they need to connect with family and friends either online or over the phone.
  • Ensure isolating boarders have the tools and resources they need to continue to access their learning.
  • Undertake daily health and wellbeing checks with isolating boarders and live-in staff. This should be over the phone but can be in-person if staff consider an isolating boarder is at risk. Staff conducting welfare checks with cases must wear a medical-grade mask and maintain 2 metres' physical distance wherever practicable.
  • Ensure your staff responsible for checking in with an isolating boarder know of any pre-existing challenges or vulnerabilities for the person.
  • If possible, organise outdoor access for cases on your premises. Provide notice to non-isolating boarders and block off the outdoor space and relevant entranceways when doing so.
  • Use your existing knowledge of your boarders to organise activities to allow isolating residents to connect with each other virtually – for example, online games, workshops and competitions.
  • Work with your school to facilitate access to mental health services and resources. This may be online, or over the phone.
  • Seek feedback from boarders and staff about what is and isn’t working for them, and use this to tailor what you do next, where possible.

Staff may also want to connect indoors with the case if going outdoors is not suitable.  This must only occur if in a well-ventilated room with both the boarder and staff member wearing masks, and physically distanced from each other (i.e., at least 2 metres distance between the case and staff member). Clean the room after use.

If there is any indication that the case is deteriorating do not hesitate to seek medical attention urgently.

Staff wellbeing

Work with staff in the development of case management plans and ensure they have been appropriately informed and trained on relevant health and safety processes and procedures, including those that will be implemented when there are cases onsite.

Identify critical roles and functions, and plan for how you will temporarily fill staff roles when staff are unwell or isolating.

Work with at-risk staff to agree arrangements to manage and mitigate risks.

Provide guidance to staff on preventative measures they can take at work and at home to keep themselves and their whānau safe.

Encourage staff to speak with their manager if they are feeling stressed or fatigued or notice signs of stress and fatigue in others.

Checklist to prepare for a COVID-19 case

Information to prepare Notes
Total number of boarders and staff at your property  
Do you have up to date contact information, including emergency contacts, for boarders and staff in an easy to share format (e.g. excel spreadsheet)?  
Do you have the contact details for visitors regularly at your facility (e.g., contractors, parents, support services)?  
For anyone more vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19, especially if not fully vaccinated, do you have individual plans in place to further mitigate risk for those persons?  
How many boarders or staff would not be able to be safely sent home to isolate?  
If those boarders who cannot safely be returned home to isolate became cases, what facilities do you have available to be able to isolate them?  
How are you currently recording visits to your facility?   
Do you know where the nearest testing centre is for staff and boarders?  
Do you have adequate supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for staff (masks, gloves and hand sanitiser)?  

Do you have sufficient Infection Prevention Control measures?

This should include:

  • Cleaning Products (especially for shared areas)
  • Cleaning Processes (especially for shared areas).
  • Personal Protect Equipment (PPE), including: Masks, Gloves and Hand Sanitiser

Have you completed your ventilation self-assessment?

Ventilation in schools – Ministry of Education

What rooms have been identified as poorly ventilated (or not well-ventilated)? What measures can you introduce to improve ventilation, or not use those rooms?


What is your communications plan for boarders, staff, parents and caregivers? Do they know how you will contact them and what your plans are for managing cases?