Health chief calls for review of 'confusing' schools covid policy

School IT lesson

Policies for dealing with covid in schools are confusing, says Devon's public health director - Credit: Unsplash

The current policy on dealing with covid in schools is “rather confusing” according to Devon’s public health director, who has asked for a review amid rising cases.

Whereas last year classes were taught in bubbles, during the summer the government changed the policy to try to keep more children in school.

Students who test positive still need to isolate for 10 days at home, but schools no longer need to send away whole year groups because of a single case. Recent changes also mean under-18s don’t need to self-isolate if they are a contact of anyone testing positive, but they are advised to get a PCR test.

Devon’s director of public health Steve Brown told members of the Team Devon local outbreak engagement board that the current policy is if there are five or more ‘linked’ cases or 10 per cent of positive cases in pupils or staff, then it will be declared as ‘higher risk’ and defined as an outbreak.

Mr Brown said the policy was: “probably set in the summer before we saw those significant rises in cases” and has asked for it to be reviewed: “It is a capacity challenge, not just for schools but also for us in local public health teams and also some confusion for their parents as well.”

Close contacts are now being identified through NHS Test and Trace, meaning education settings are no longer expected to undertake contact tracing. But in order to work out if any cases are linked, Mr Brown said a school “inevitably has to do a little bit of contact tracing.”

“There has been some confusion and some challenges in the system. We’ve escalated this through to our regional colleagues which has been escalated nationally.

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“I think it would be fair to say, operationally within the schools, some of the parents are finding it rather challenging because they’ve been used to a routine over the last 12 months or so, where if there’s a positive case in their daughter or son’s class, then they isolate for ten days.”

Mr Brown said there were some examples where two or three positive cases in a class had led to some concerned parents choosing to keep children at home, even though they no longer have to isolate, but others were happy for children to go to school.

The virtual meeting was told of an increase in infections in ‘educational settings’ in the past seven days, which was being replicated across the country, with them accounting for around 700 positive cases out of the near 2,000 in the Devon County Council area.

Infection rates amongst people up to age 19 age in Devon rose from 394 per 100,000 on Monday 13 September to 437 on by Friday that week; the most recent date for which data are available.

Secondary school and college students are being instructed to wear face coverings in communal areas for a further two weeks.

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