Dr Tamara Djuretic, Director of Public Health and Prevention at Barnet, answers your questions
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- Is it safe to send my child to school?
- Why does my child need to follow national lockdown guidance and not visit friends?
- What happens if there is a case of COVID-19 in my child’s school?
- Can my children attend after school clubs or extra-curricular activities during the current national restrictions?
- Why are school assemblies still being held where there are over 100 kids and teachers sitting in a hall for 40 minutes?
- Are we allowed to have girls bake cupcakes wearing gloves and masks and following covid19 food preparation guidance?
- Different schools seem to be following different procedures regarding catching the virus. Why aren't schools following uniformly stringent procedures?
- Given the importance of wearing masks to halt the spread of the virus, why aren't children being asked to wear masks as much as possible in school?
Health and wellbeing of our children and young people is a national priority and there is a fine balance to be struck between protecting communities from COVID-19 infection while providing ongoing safe education. The risk to children themselves of becoming severely ill from COVID-19 is very low. Senior clinicians advise that school is the best place for children to be and that they should continue to go to school (unless they are classed as extremely clinically vulnerable or need to self-isolate/are unwell).
Public Health England conducted a study of more than 1 million children attending pre-school and primary school in England, just 70 children were infected with COVID-19. It was concluded therefore that children were more likely to acquire COVID-19 infection outside school settings than in schools. This is what we also see in local incidents investigation.
Schools have implemented a range of protective measures to make them safe and all schools have undertaken a COVID-19 secure risk assessment, this may be available on their website or by directly contacting them.
Whilst at school children will be able to see their classmates, this is because schools have specific COVID-19 secure safety measures in place to minimise the risk of transmission.
Inside schools and COVID-19 secure childcare, children and young people must follow the COVID-19 secure measures the schools and venues have in place, and children who are old enough should still socially distance as much as possible. This is also covered by Health and Safety Executive legislation. There are no equivalent measures and assurances being put in place in private households and, although most people do follow infection control measures, it is not always consistent.
If there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 in your child’s school, the school will be supported to identify all those who have been in close contact with the person with confirmed COVID-19, as they may be at risk of being infected. All those children, young people and staff identified to be at risk, will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days since last in contact with the infected person. Even if children, young people and staff get tested negative within the isolation period, isolation still needs to continue, as they may become infectious and/or ill at any time during that period.
Every scenario is different and that’s why sometimes only a few children are sent home, sometimes it is the whole support bubble and sometimes the whole year or even school, in special circumstances. These decisions are based on detailed risk-assessments carried out by school and supported by public health professionals. We always strive to minimise risks and exclude only those students who are at-risk.
If your child is asked to self-isolate, your school will inform you immediately and provide you with a letter with further advice. The length of time that your child needs to self-isolate for will be explained in the letter. Unless your child develops COVID-19 symptoms or test positive for COVID-19, the rest of your household will not need to self-isolate (unless there is another reason for your household to self-isolate e.g. another household member with symptoms).
Please note that your school has been given the authority to advise your child to self-isolate by the London Coronavirus Response Cell, which is part of the Test and Trace service, so you must follow the guidance in the letter they provide, even if NHS Test and Trace does not contact you directly.
Can my children attend after school clubs or extra-curricular activities during the current national restrictions?
The government has advised that only education and childcare facilities can remain open. Education facilities include schools, early years settings, further education facilities, and higher education. This will not normally include extra-curricular activity providers who are not childcare providers; to be classified as a school a provider must be registered with the Department of Education as a school and have a Department of Education school number.
Out-of-school activities may continue to operate if their primary purpose is providing registered childcare, or where they are offering other childcare activities, where this is reasonably necessary to enable parents to work (or search for work) or undertake training / education. Out-of-school activities may continue to operate for the purposes of respite care, including for vulnerable children. Out-of-school activities that are primarily used by home educating parents as part of their arrangements for their child to receive a suitable full-time education may also continue to operate for the duration of the national restrictions. Youth support services, including 1-1 youth work and support groups, may also continue to operate. Other after school clubs and extra-curricular activity providers will not be able to operate.
Why are school assemblies still being held where there are over 100 kids and teachers sitting in a hall for 40 minutes?
It doesn’t make sense to still allow this
We would not recommend that assemblies should be taking place. Government guidance states that “groups should be kept apart, meaning that schools should avoid large gatherings such as assemblies or collective worship with more than one group.
Are we allowed to have girls bake cupcakes wearing gloves and masks and following covid19 food preparation guidance?
The cupcakes will be made by one year group and distributed to girls in the school in different bubbles. Is this permissible?
Government guidance states that “School kitchens can continue to operate but must comply with the guidance for food businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19).” However, it would seem unlikely that children preparing food would necessarily be able to prepare food to the same food hygiene standard. COVID-19 is unlikely to be contracted via food, but it is theoretically possible. It might be best to avoid this activity for the time being unless additional precautionary measures are put in place to allow safe distribution.
Different schools seem to be following different procedures regarding catching the virus. Why aren't schools following uniformly stringent procedures?
For example, another school is taking all students' temperatures upon arrival each day, while my children's school is not doing this and yet it would seem a much more prudent practice.
Daily temperature checks are not part of the recommended COVID-secure measures for schools. Public Health England has good evidence that routinely taking the temperature of pupils is an unreliable method for identifying COVID-19. It also may provide a false sense of security.
Given the importance of wearing masks to halt the spread of the virus, why aren't children being asked to wear masks as much as possible in school?
I understand that they won't be as compliant all the time (especially when eating lunch), but surely some mask-wearing is better than none?
Government guidance advises that on the basis of current evidence, in light of the mitigating measures education settings are taking to reduce the risk of COVID-19, and their potential negative impact on communication, face coverings will not generally be necessary in the classroom even where social distancing is not possible. The government advises that face coverings can have a negative impact on learning and teaching and so their use in the classroom should be avoided. However, government guidance is that currently, in schools where pupils in year 7 and above are educated, face coverings should be worn by adults (staff and visitors) and pupils when moving around indoors in corridors and other communal areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain. In primary schools, in situations indoors where social distancing between adults in settings is not possible, settings have the discretion to recommend the use of face coverings for adults when indoors on site.