Teachers warned not to break coronavirus rules outside classroom after PHE report finds they spread virus more than kids

TEACHERS have been warned not to break the coronavirus rules outside the classroom after a report found they spread the virus more than children.

A report by Public Health England (PHE) has revealed staff are far more likely to be the cause of a Covid-19 outbreak than the pupils.

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Now a PHE scientist has warned school staff they have a duty of care beyond the school gates and must minimise their risk of catching and transmissing the virus.

A paediatric infectious diseases specialist at PHE, Shamez Ladhani, who headed up the monitoring of England’s schools, told The Times: “We need to educate the educators. There’s a clear need for a duty of care outside the school setting so staff need to protect themselves, and in turn other staff and pupils.”

The PHE study found that nearly half of all cases of transmission in school were staff to staff.

Dr Ladhani said: “Staff are very good at social distancing and infection control in the classroom, but upon leaving the school environment these measures are more likely to be broken, potentially putting themselves and their colleagues at risk.”

The study also discovered outbreaks in schools were more likely in areas that had a high rate of cases in the community.

Dr Ladhani added: “We need to understand that staff members are usually healthy adults with active social lives in the community like everyone else, and this is why we think that when community levels go up then the schools reflect the outbreak.”

The same study also found just 0.01 per cent of preschools and primary schools in England suffered a coronavirus outbreak and no kids needed hospital treatment.

The reopening of schools after lockdown was eased was associated with a 198 confirmed coronavirus cases – 70 in children and 128 in staff.

There were 67 single confirmed cases, four “co-primary” cases and 30 outbreaks, of two or more cases, of Covid-19 in schools during June.

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.

We need to educate the educators. There’s a clear need for a duty of care outside the school setting so staff need to protect themselves, and in turn other staff and pupils

A total of 121 cases were linked to the outbreaks with 30 infections detected in children and 91 in staff, the study said.

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. 

The PHE report found outbreaks in schools were usually small in size and more than half involved just one secondary case with PHE saying all were “successfully contained”.

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."

'INCREDIBLY SMALL RISK'

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.

In a “consensus statement,” all 12 Chief and Deputy Chief Medical Officers agreed that “very few, if any, teenagers will come to long-term harm from Covid-19 due solely to attending school”. 

The report 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.

They say that small risk had to be offset against “a certainty of long-term harm to many children from not attending school”.

The medical officers concluded “teachers are not at increased risk of dying from Covid-19” compared to other workers, and say that the evidence from other countries is that reopening schools is not linked to a spike in cases.

They concluded: ”There is an exceptionally small risk of children of primary or secondary school age dying from Covid-19”.

They said the fatality rate for children aged five to 15 who become infected was just 14 in a million, “lower than for most seasonal flu infections”, and while every death of a child is a tragedy, “almost all deaths [from Covid] are in children with significant pre-existing health conditions”.

The experts said that just one in a thousand children under nine who show Covid symptoms would need hospital treatment, a figure that rises to three in a thousand for ten-to-19-year-olds.

THIRTY OUTBREAKS IN SCHOOLS

Set against this tiny risk, the scientists said: “We are confident that multiple sources of evidence show that a lack of schooling increases inequalities, reduces the life chances of children and can exacerbate physical and mental health issues.”

England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty added the “incredibly small” health risks should be balanced against the evidence “that not going to school damages children in the long run and that includes their long-term chances.”

He said: “It increases the risks of disparities, it entrenches deep-rooted problems, it increases the risk that they have mental and physical ill health in the long run.”

He added the transmission rates across the UK were broadly flat and said: “The evidence from other parts of the world is that, when schools have opened, this has not led to a sudden surge in transmission that looks as if it's due to the schools opening.”

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.

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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