Loughborough Echo

Rise in cases leads to return of masks at county schools

GOVERNMENT ALLOWS NEW MEASURES

- By HANNAH RICHARDSON News Reporter

LEICESTERS­HIRE County Council has announced the return of face masks in schools after the government recognised its “different position” to the rest of the country – with infections now “as bad as they have ever been”.

The council has said face masks would now be required in all communal areas in secondary schools across its patch.

The measure is expected to stay in place until at least next term and will require pupils to wear masks in corridors, lunch queues, stairwells and on school buses.

Mike Sandys, director of public health at the county council, said the government’s Department for Education said there was a need for extra precaution­s as Covid-19 infection rates are now higher than they have ever been in the county.

“If you look at the population as a whole, the Leicesters­hire average is as high as it’s ever been,” he said.

“In fact, it’s never been as high as it is. It’s around 560-plus cases per 100,000.

“In schools we’ve seen that creep up. So, I think, in the 11 to 16 population, it’s twice that. So, it’s over 1,000 cases per 100,000.

“What’s twitched me in the last week is I don’t know which way things are going to go, but I’m not quite certain we’re at the peak yet and we are getting more cases spreading up from children into the older age groups.

“But, there’s only so far we can go in terms of restrictio­ns. If we’d have written and asked pupils to wear face coverings this time a couple of months ago, we wouldn’t have been allowed because it wasn’t one of the things the Department for Education said we could do.

“But, nationally, I think they’ve realised we’re in a bit of a different position with the risk of Covid now, so they’ve said we can do that now.”

Mr Sandys added he does not think the reintroduc­tion of face masks alone will be enough to curb the high rates.

He said: “It needs to be part of a package, which includes getting children to wear them in communal areas, but at the same time there’s everything else, whether you’re a child or an adult, you need to be doing as well.

“That is get vaccinated and maybe just go back to thinking about the behaviour we were doing over the summer in terms of mask wearing and social distancing that we’ve eased off doing because we all think it’s gone away when in actuality it hasn’t.

“So, as a single measure, it’s not going to turn that super-tanker around, but in combinatio­n with everything else obviously it helps us in driving rates down.”

Jane Moore, director of children and family services at the county council, said the priority at the moment is preventing further disruption to pupils’ education and an important step is making sure teachers are protected.

“Things were really difficult last term, we were seeing the number of infections in children going up but then there’s the obvious knock-on impact on members of staff as well,” she said.

IMPACT ON STAFFING

“One of the main considerat­ions in schools is that if a teacher has to selfisolat­e or if they’re poorly, they can’t work from home, we need teaching staff in school.

“Schools are doing really well in terms of managing this, but it is having an impact on staffing and our worry is what’s coming with Covid mixed with winter flu could have quite a significan­t impact. So the measures around face masks is about putting additional measures in that could add support.

“I think any measures that enable children to be in education are important. Coupled with that is, yes the impact [of the virus] on children is lower, other than them missing education, but actually the impact on the people they live with, they’ll associate with, the teaching staff, that’s the bit we need to consider around infections in children.

“We have written to parents and carers as well and one of the key messages we have been giving out to them is around how they can also support the schools.

“It could be things like supporting their children in wearing masks, thinking about what children are doing out of school, thinking about what they’re doing at the schools gates as well and just generally being supportive around the measures teachers are having to put in.”

Ms Moore added that they have 82 schools they are supporting with extra measures at various stages of the council’s Outbreak Management Plan.

The plan has four stages. The first stage kicks in when a school has five linked cases or 10 per cent of a school tests positive in the last 10 days. The fourth stage is initiated when there are 50-plus cases or 30 per cent of a school is positive.

Mr Sandys added: “Basically there are cases and a significan­t number of them across the board. Every district, primary and secondary schools is being battered by Covid cases. So from the point of view of going ‘why aren’t you just concentrat­ing on the schools with outbreaks, why are we doing this universall­y’, well it’s just across the board at the moment.

‘IMPORTANT MESSAGE’

“Even if we wanted to say ‘wear masks in primary schools’ we can’t [because the Department for Education has not allowed it]. “That’s not to say if any primary school children want to wear a mask, I’m going to put them off. “We’ve had more grandparen­ts rocking up at our testing stations because they’ve been in contact with grandchild­ren who are positive.”

Jane Moore also said it was important to recognise the brilliant work schools have been doing to keep their pupils safe. She said: “Schools are doing their absolute best to keep children in school and keep them educated and all of the other brilliant things that they do. “I think that’s a really important message, that parents and carers really understand how hard schools are working to keep their children safe but also to keep them in education as well.

“We need that strong message of ‘we’ve all got a part to play, wear masks, get tested and support children to be in education full-time’.”

In schools we’ve seen it creep up. So, I think, in the 11 to 16 population, it’s over 1,000 cases per 100,000

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 ?? ?? EXTRA PRECAUTION­S: Mike Sandys
EXTRA PRECAUTION­S: Mike Sandys

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