'30 Covid-19 outbreaks in English schools after they reopened'

23 August 2020, 12:41

A social distancing banner on school gates
A social distancing banner on school gates. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

There were 30 outbreaks of coronavirus in English schools after they reopened, according to analysis by Public Health England.

A report published on Sunday said the reopening of schools following the easing of national lockdown was associated with a total of 198 confirmed Covid-19 cases, 70 in children and 128 in staff.

There were 67 single confirmed cases, four "co-primary" cases and 30 outbreaks of Covid-19 in schools during June, it added.

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

The report comes as the UK's chief medical officers said children are more at risk of long-term harm if they do not attend school than if they return to the classroom.

In the study, co-primary cases were defined as two or more confirmed cases with a common epidemiological link diagnosed at the same time, while outbreaks were defined as two or more epidemiologically linked cases where subsequent cases were diagnosed within 14 days.

Outbreaks were usually small in size and more than half (53%) involved just one secondary case, the analysis said.

The report said there was a "strong correlation" between community coronavirus incidence and risk of outbreaks in educational settings, even during a period of low Covid-19 incidence.

But it added this was not surprising because increased community transmission provided more opportunities for the virus to be introduced into educational settings.

The analysis said further school closures may be necessary in regions with increasing community infection, but this should only be considered "in extremis".

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."

Education settings 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, the analysis said.

But it said the reopening was not mandatory and was met with "mixed responses", with only 1.6 million of the 8.9 million pupils nationally attending any educational setting during the "summer mini-term".

The analysis also said the majority of cases linked to outbreaks were in staff, and warned staff 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.

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."

The analysis comes the day after the UK's chief medical officers warned children are more at risk of long-term harm if they do not attend school than if they return to the classroom despite coronavirus.