Cases of Coronavirus among schoolchildren are on the rise, but prime minister Boris Johnson has vowed to keep schools open. So what does it mean for kids – and the rest of us?
According to government data, in the last two weeks of September, school absences related to Covid-19 in England jumped by two-thirds. This raises concerns about disruption to education, despite the promise to keep schools open.
Around one in seven secondary school students were off for either coronavirus-related or other reasons. This age group has the highest prevalence of infections in the country, the Department for Education said, and some epidemiologists are concerned about rising case numbers among children.
At state-funded schools, an estimated 204,000 students, or 2.5% of all pupils, were off for Covid-19-related reasons on September 30, which was up from 122,00 on Sept 16, according to figures. Overall attendance in state-funded primary schools was 92.6% on that day, while in secondary schools, attendance was 86.3%.
Last month, a half-term firebreak lockdown was discussed to disrupt the wave of infection, but with the holidays now imminent, it doesn’t seem to be on the cards. Nadhim Zahawi, who is now education secretary but was until recently the vaccines minister – has since played down such restrictions being introduced.
What are the implications of children testing positive for Covid?
The increase of Covid-19 among secondary school-age children did contribute to a rise in overall infection numbers in the latest weekly figures from Office for National Statistics.
But Paul Hunter, who is a professor of health protection at the University of East Anglia, thinks the risks of children being in school – and the impact on the general population – have been overstated by some.
“If England follows Scotland I think we should see Covid in schools becoming less and less of a problem over coming months,” he tells HuffPost UK. “At some point we have to accept that Covid will continue to circulate, though disease severity will continue to decline and the virus will become just another cause of the common cold.
“At some point fairly soon I think we need to stop testing asymptomatic children. But of course case numbers can go up as well as down, so all expectations carry a substantial degree of uncertainty.”
We shouldn’t be surprised to see high case numbers among children. In September, chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, said there was a “near certainty” that unvaccinated children would catch coronavirus sooner or later.
Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam added: “Because the Delta variant is so infectious, we are not looking at a theoretical risk of children 12 to 17 becoming infected – I think it is really quite inevitable that they will be so at some point.”
What should you do if your child tests positive for Covid?
Don’t panic, it is still the case that most children who become infected will experience Covid with mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all.
If your child tests positive for Covid, they have to quarantine for 10 days. You will have to book another PCR test for them to confirm the result, and your child should continue to self-isolate while awaiting the results.
Students or their parents will be asked to provide details about their close contacts at school or elsewhere. Other children who have been in close contact with your child are advised to take a PCR test – but this is not mandatory.
What happens if someone in my child’s class tests positive for Covid?
Currently, in England, children are urged to take lateral flow tests twice a week. If someone in your child’s class tests positive, NHS Test and Trace will inform other students or their parents that they’ve been in close contact with a positive test.
If someone under 18 is a close contact of a Covid case they are not required to self-isolate. Instead, they’re advised to take a PCR test, but this is not mandatory. Your child should continue attending school as normal while waiting for the results of the PCR test.
Can my child get the vaccine?
Children between 12-15 are now being offered Covid-19 vaccines. This comes after Boris Johnson’s medical advisers last month found that the benefit of taking the vaccine to avoid further disruption to schooling outweighs the risks.