Public health chief Jim McManus has urged parents to continue with twice weekly lateral flow testing to halt the spread of Covid-19 into schools – as one Hemel Hempstead high school returns to remote learning.
Latest data shows the number of cases of Covid-19 is steadily rising across the county – with around 95.2 in every 100,000 people testing positive (the period represented is the 7 days ending June 23), in Dacorum the incidence rate is 92.4 per 100,000 people.
And at the John F Kennedy Catholic School this week they had such a high number of children needing to self-isolate, that they switched back to remote learning.
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Hertfordshire’s director of public health Jim McManus stresses that infections are not occurring within school – but in the wider community.
And speaking at a media briefing on Thursday, June 24, he urged parents to continue to take regular lateral flow tests at home – which identify household members who may have the virus, but no symptoms.
He stresses that early self-isolation, where cases are found, would ultimately mean fewer children having to stay away from school.
“I think the message to parents remains please continue with regular testing,” he said.
“And if someone tests positive on a lateral flow device, you have to self-isolate, you have to get a PCR test.
“That is the law. And the earlier you do that, the fewer people – and the fewer school children – will have to self-isolate.”
Bosses at John F Kennedy Catholic School took the decision to return to remote learning from Wednesday, June 23, pointing to a ‘significant increase’ in Covid in the school and ‘a high number of students having to self-isolate’.
“This is increasingly disrupting students’ learning and is becoming hard to manage effectively, ” said a spokesperson for the school this week.
“Therefore, following discussions with the County Council’s Education and Public Health Teams, we have made the decision to temporarily switch all students to remote learning from 23rd June.
“This will give us an opportunity to break chains of transmission and deep clean the school, helping to prevent more cases in future.”
Year 10 students are expected to return to the school from today (June 28) – with the rest of the school set to return from July 5.
“This is a scenario we have prepared for and unfortunate as it is, we always put the safety of our students and the whole school community first,” said the spokesperson.
John F Kennedy is currently the only Hertfordshire school, where children are learning remotely from home.
And at the briefing Mr McManus said that he hoped all Hertfordshire schools would be fully open in September.
He stressed that tracking, contact tracing and network analysis of the larger outbreaks had shown that transmission of the virus was occurring away from schools.
And he stressed that case rates could be kept low by vaccination, regular testing and socialising carefully, in ventilated premises .
“Infections are not happening in schools, ” he said.
“Infections are happening by socialising of people generally outside schools that infect households that the kids are part of and then take it in to school.
“[. . .] So if we want our schools open – which I really hope we do – we want fewer kids and fewer households infected.
“So keep Covid low, try and suppress it – get your vaccine, get tested and just socialise carefully in ventilated premises and we can keep schools open.
“We have still got a month to go before the end of the school year – but we want to come back in September with every school fully open.”
No decision has yet been made on whether to extend the vaccination programme to children.
At the briefing Mr McManus said that ‘on the whole’ children did not become seriously ill from the virus.
So he suggested that any decision to vaccinate children would be ‘to improve their life chances’ in keeping schools open or to enhance population immunity.
And he said he would hope that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – which advises the government – would make education part of their consideration.
“There are a lot of teachers and parents in Hertfordshire who would like that for their kids’ chances,” he said.