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30 coronavirus outbreaks occurred in schools in England that reopened in June

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 23/08/2020 Kit Heren
a group of people standing next to a fence © Provided by Evening Standard

English schools suffered 30 outbreaks of coronavirus after reopening in June, an analysis of official figures has found.

A Public Health England (PHE) report released on Sunday said that there were 198 confirmed Covid-19 cases associated with schools reopening following the easing of national lockdown.

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Some 128 of those were among staff and 70 were in children.

A total of 121 cases were linked to the outbreaks, 30 in children and 91 in staff, the analysis said.

There were 67 single confirmed cases, four “co-primary” cases and 30 outbreaks of Covid-19 in schools during June, the health agency added.

"Co-primary cases" are two or more confirmed cases with a common epidemiological link diagnosed at the same time.

Outbreaks in this case mean two or more epidemiologically linked cases where subsequent related cases were diagnosed within 14 days.

a group of people standing around a bus: Children and parents walking to school (PA) © Provided by Evening Standard Children and parents walking to school (PA)

Outbreaks were usually small in size and more than half (53 per cent) involved just one subsequent related case, PHE's analysis said.

There was a “strong correlation” between coronavirus incidence in local communities and risk of outbreaks in nearby schools, even during a period of low virus infection rates, the report warned.

The analysis added that more schools could have to be closed in regions where community infection rates are increasing - but this should only be considered in extreme circumstances.

It said: “The potential for spread within educational settings, as observed from the wider swabbing of some schools in our surveillance and from recent reports from other countries, does suggest that school closures may be necessary as part of lockdown in regions with increasing community infection, although given what is known about the detrimental effects of lack of access to education on child development, these should probably be considered only in extremis by comparison with other lockdown measures.”

a group of people walking in front of a building: Students going to school in Scotland (PA) © Provided by Evening Standard Students going to school in Scotland (PA)

Schools in England were asked to reopen to children in nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 at the start of June, extending to Year 10 and 12 students from June 15.

But reopening was not mandatory and the report said the request was met with “mixed responses”. Just 1.6 million of the 8.9 million pupils across the country attended any educational setting during the “summer mini-term”.

With the majority of cases linked to outbreaks affecting staff rather than pupils, the report warned school workers need to be “more vigilant” for exposure outside the school.

It found that in half of the 30 confirmed outbreaks, the “probable transmission direction” was staff-to-staff, with seven staff-to-student, six student-to-staff and two student-to-student.

a group of people sitting at a table: Children at school with social distancing measures in place (PA) © Provided by Evening Standard Children at school with social distancing measures in place (PA)

But it said early detection and isolation of staff and students can prevent the progression of an outbreak “in most cases”.

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.”

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Children queuing for school (PA) © Provided by Evening Standard Children queuing for school (PA)

The analysis comes the day after England's chief medical officer warned the risk of children catching coronavirus at school is "incredibly small" compared to the "clear" chances of pupils being damaged by not going.

Professor Chris Whitty acknowledged that the risk to children was "not zero", but the evidence that not going to school damages children in the long run was "overwhelming".

Meanwhile Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said schools and colleges needed to know what should happen if an outbreak of the virus occurs in individual schools or through national, regional or local spikes.

A file photo of a pupil learning at a marked table during the coronavirus pandemic (PA) © Provided by Evening Standard A file photo of a pupil learning at a marked table during the coronavirus pandemic (PA)

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.

Mr Courtney added: “Government advice needs to cover the possible self-isolation of bubbles and, in extremis, moving to rotas or to more limited opening.

“It needs to cover advice to heads about the protections needed for staff in high-risk categories if infection rates rise.

“Government should be employing more teachers and seeking extra teaching spaces to allow education to continue in a Covid-secure manner if infections rise.”

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