Every Calderdale school child might have to self-isolate at some point in pandemic health chiefs warns

In the coming weeks and months every child at Calderdale schools could – at some point during the pandemic – have to self-isolate at home, warn senior council officers.

Tuesday, 13th October 2020, 10:38 am
Updated Tuesday, 13th October 2020, 10:42 am

With news and social media reports highlighting incidents where Calderdale pupils have already had to be sent home to isolate, it is something the public should expect because of the nature of the virus and the way it spreads.

Measures have been put in place to keep children as safe as possible at and travelling to and from school and planning undertaken to ensure children can learn remotely if they have to stay at home, say the council’s Director of Public Health, Debs Harkins, Director of Children and Young People’s Services, Julie Jenkins, and Cabinet member for Children and Young

People’s Services, Coun Adam Wilkinson (Lab, Sowerby Bridge).

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Calderdale health chiefs discussed pupils being told to self isolate (Getty Images)

Ms Harkins said: “We all need to expect that every child will be self-isolating at some point.

“There will be a time over six months where a school is affected because more people test positive in a bubble.

“It is not in any way a reflection on the school.”

The situation might not arise but people should expect that it could, said Ms Harkins.

She wanted to point out that a positive case, which could lead, for example, to a “bubble” of pupils all having to self isolate was not the same as an outbreak.

Ms Harkins explained that where a case arose if a staff member or child tested positive for COVID-19 the school informed the public health team, who made a decision on what action to take.

A single case could be just one person or sometimes a cluster but with no link, she said.

“With quite a lot of transmission in the community we will expect children or staff might get it but that doesn’t mean there is an outbreak – we define that as when we can see two or more cases and evidence of transmission within the setting,” she said.

The decision will be informed by close study of the infection period and people possibly in contact with the person infected, discussed with the public health team and the school.

A decision will then be made about any staff members needing to self-isolate or whether a “bubble” of pupils needs to self-isolate.

Also examined were friendship groups which might be impacted and transport, for example whether a child may have travelled to school on public transport or school transport, said Ms Harkins.

“At any one time there is a lot of children and staff at home.

“It becomes common knowledge; it doesn’t mean there is an outbreak, it could just be one single case.

“It starts to get difficult when we see more than two cases and a link between them – that is described as an outbreak,” she said.

The same task of identifying contacts and isolating them all then applies, said Ms Harkins.

In cases where a whole establishment had to close down, that might be because of difficulties of staffing a school or because it might not be clear if there were a number of places where transmission could have occurred.

Ms Jenkins said the council’s special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) children were protected as much as possible on their journeys to school with concerned parents asked to bring them to school rather than sharing taxis, staggered starts at schools had been put in place, West Yorkshire Combined Authority had put on extra school services, children were asked to wear masks and told to try and travel with others in their bubble and to sit with the same people every day.

Younger children found it harder to understand but secondary and sixth form age groups did and and have been kept very strictly in their year groups and bubbles, and headteachers were reporting pupils had responded to the situation well, she said.

Coun Wilkinson said unlike earlier in the pandemic the Government was placing importance on schools and these would be the last things to close, if another full lockdown had to be imposed, and the first to re-open.

“My concern with case numbers going up is we are going to be seeing more and more pressures put on schools in terms of dealing with a number of cases and outbreaks.

“It is a challenge, teachers having to provide the lessons remotely,” he said.

Coun Wilkinson said planning was in place for pupils who had to self-isolate potentially for a short period of time.

There was more work still to be done to ensure pupils had what they needed to learn remotely, including equipment and broadband access – the council was looking at a BT scheme to provide broadband for children who did not have access to it for a six month period.

It was challenge for teachers to set lessons and mark and assess them in a remote setting, he said.