Public Health consultant Ben Leaman told members of Calderdale Council’s Children and Young People’s Services Scrutiny Board that schools had been hit by rising cases of the coronavirus.
Clusters of cases of the new fast spreading Delta variant have been found in parts of the borough and tonight (Thursday, June 24, from 7pm) Mr Leaman is on a panel taking part in a question and answer session about the general situation and additional testing which will be screened on the council’s social media channels.
Mr Leaman told councillors at their meeting that calls about the situation from schools had started by 7am on Monday morning and by lunchtime public health staff had spoken to a fifth of Calderdale schools with outbreaks of the virus.
He said while positive COVID-19 case rates are running at around 150 per 100,000 people the rate was 370 per 100,000 among young people aged pre-16 and 700 per 100,000 for post-16s.
“We are seeing really high rates in our young people at the moment and schools are really struggling with the amount of COVID cases and the impact on children and young people,” he said.
The situation felt like stepping back to last year – but nevertheless Calderdale’s schools were doing a tremendous job meeting the challenge and offering quality education, he said.
Among positives in Calderdale were the fact that surge testing rates were high and anybody could walk up and get a PCR test, a test which is the “gold standard.”
And schools were playing their part by stepping up testing, said Mr Leaman, highlighting Ryburn Valley High School in Sowerby as an example.
“We received back around 1,400 test kits just on one day and that is brilliant, that really helps us try and get on top of rising infections in Calderdale,” he said.
Mr Leaman warned Calderdale infection rates would get worse in the coming days and weeks and it was a sad time for this to happen, for example with Year 6 children due to leave their primary schools when the last thing they wanted to do was have to spend the last days in isolation.
Schools had been given resources to help with transition from primary to secondary school and links between health and wellbeing and education teams had never been stronger, he said.
Teams were waiting for guidance on how schools would operate in the new school year – whether “bubbles”, mask-wearing and social distancing would still be applied, for example.
“Even with all the planning, COVID is going to be disruptive for some time yet,” cautioned Mr Leaman, but he added vaccine take-up in Calderdale was really impressive and this time hospitalisations had been low.
He encouraged young people to keep conducting the lateral flow tests.
David Lord, Chief Executive Officer of Together Learning Trust, of which Ryburn Valley High is part, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service today (June 24) that the help given to schools throughout the pandemic by Calderdale’s Public Health team has been very much appreciated.
“I have the utmost respect for our staff and Public Health Calderdale for their dedication and tremendous hard work.
“Schools are increasingly feeling the pressure of higher Covid-19 rates in Calderdale especially for 11-19 year olds.
“Staff continue to follow DfE guidance meticulously and fully support the surge PCR testing strategy implemented despite the accompanying logistical pressures that come on top of delivering the full curriculum to over 1,500 young people.
“We are so impressed with the character and resilience of our students as they maintain impeccable standards of behaviour and remain fully committed to high levels of academic performance,” he said.
Board Chair Coun Colin Raistrick (Ind, Hipperholme and Lightcliffe) said surge testing seemed to have had an effect helping contain outbreaks in the north west and Mr Leaman said these had been part of packages of support there.
Responding to a question from Coun Diana Tremayne (Lab, Todmorden), who said surge testing seemed to be having an impact in the town having been stepped up over the last couple of weeks, Mr Leaman said the whole package of interventions in Todmorden had led to a reduction in cases.
This included a number of surge testing centres and lots of people appreciating the situation and modifying their behaviour accordingly.
“They are engaging with this and that’s really positive,” he said.