There were 30 outbreaks of Covid-19 in English schools after they reopened following the end of lockdown, analysis has found.
A new report published by Public Health England (PHE) found there had been 198 confirmed cases of the virus linked to schools during June, with 70 among children and 128 among staff.
Of those, 67 were single confirmed cases, four were ‘co-primary’ and 30 were classed as outbreaks. Co-primary cases are defined as two or more linked cases diagnosed at the same time, while outbreaks also lead to more linked cases being discovered within 14 days.
There were 121 cases linked to the outbreaks, made up of 30 children and 91 members of staff. They were typically small in size, with 53% of them involving just one secondary case, the report said.
The analysis went on to say there was a ‘strong correlation’ between occurrences of community coronavirus and the risk of outbreaks in educational settings, even when the rate of the virus is low.
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This is because the increased community transmission rate provides more opportunities for the virus to be introduced throughout schools, the report suggested.
It went on to say that closing schools could help prevent the spread of coronavirus if a local lockdown was necessary, but added that this should only be considered as a last resort.
It went on: ‘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.’
The analysis also found that in half of the 30 confirmed outbreaks studied, the ‘probable transmission direction’ was staff-to-staff, compared with seven cases of staff-to-student occurrences, six student-to-staff and two student-to-student.
The report said early detection and isolation of staff and students could prevent the progression of an outbreak ‘in most cases’, adding: ‘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 just as UK’s chief medical officers warned that children are more at risk of harm if schools don’t reopen in September – despite saying the risk of Covid-19 spreading within classrooms was ‘not zero’.
They noted that the virus will spread in schools once they reopen, but said current evidence suggests this would not be a ‘common route of transmission’.
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