Public Health England warns that more school closures may be necessary
There were 30 outbreaks of coronavirus in English schools following their reopening in June, according to a new analysis.
A Public Health England (PHE) report published on Sunday said that the reopening of schools following the relaxation of national lockdown restrictions resulted in a total of 198 confirmed Covid-19 cases.
Of these, 70 cases were in children and 128 amongst school staff.
During June, there were 67 single confirmed cases, four “co-primary” cases and 30 outbreaks of Covid-19 in schools.
A total of 121 cases were linked to the outbreaks – 30 in children and 91 in staff, it found.
Co-primary cases are defined as two or more confirmed cases of Covid-19 with a common epidemiological link diagnosed at the time. Outbreaks were defined as two or more epidemiologically linked cases where subsequent cases were diagnosed within 14 days.
Further school closures possible
The findings reveal that only 0.01 per cent of open educational settings had an outbreak and that out of more than one million children attending pre-school and primary school in June, only 70 were affected.
Infections in the wider community were believed to have driven cases in schools, findings noted as unsurprising due to community transmission providing more opportunities for the virus to be introduced into educational settings.
The research said that further school closures may be required in areas with a spike in community infection rates, but that this should only be considered “in extremis”.
The reopening of schools in June was greeted with reluctance by many parents, with only 1.6 of the 8.9 million pupils nationally attending any education setting during the “summer mini-term”.
‘More vigilance’ required
While early detection and isolation was agreed to prevent the progression of an outbreak “in most cases”, the analysis warned that staff needed to be “more vigilant” for exposure outside the school.
The study found that in half of the 30 confirmed outbreaks, the “probable direction” was staff-to-staff.
It added: “Within the educational setting, the higher risk of SARS-CoV-2 among staff highlights a need to strengthen infection control measures at two levels.
“Staff members need to be more vigilant for exposure outside the school setting to protect themselves, their families and the educational setting.
“Within the education premises, stringent infection control measures between staff need to be reinforced, including use of common staff rooms and cross-covering staff across bubbles.”
The analysis comes the day after the UK’s chief medical officers warned that children were at greater risk of long-term harm if they didn’t attend school than if they returned despite coronavirus.
Call for Government guidance
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary, of the National Education Union, said schools and colleges needed more clarity on what should happen if an outbreak of the virus occurs in individual schools or through national, regional or local spikes.
He said the Government needed to issue guidance on moving to teaching rotas or limited openings and to hire more teachers to allow education to continue if infection rates rise.
“Government advice needs to cover the possible self-isolation of bubbles and, in extremis, moving to rotas or to more limited opening,” said Mr Courtney.
“It needs to cover advice to heads about the protections needed for staff in high-risk categories if infection rates rise.
He added: “Government should be employing more teachers and seeking extra teaching spaces to allow education to continue in a Covid-secure manner if infections rise.”