Dr Susan Hopkins is Covid-19 Strategic Response Director to Public Health England and Chief Medical Adviser to NHS Test and Trace
Face to face education is the best place to be for children’s learning, health and wellbeing.
So it is welcome news that with infection rates coming down, the government is planning for the careful reopening of schools and colleges.
Throughout the pandemic, cases in educational settings have been managed effectively by schools to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Schools have gone to great lengths to ensure that they are as safe as possible for pupils and teachers.
Evidence shows that with the right precautions in place, transmission in schools is low and there are a range of measures in place to help protect students, staff and the wider school community.
These include rapid testing for staff and secondary students, physical distancing in the classroom, and good hand hygiene and extended use of face coverings in secondary schools where social distancing is not otherwise possible.
Rapid testing is particularly important given that around one in three people who have coronavirus never show any symptoms but may still be infectious. This means they could be spreading the virus without realising it.
Rapid tests can detect these asymptomatic cases quickly in under 30 minutes, and they are particularly effective in finding those who are most infectious.
As well as regular testing for staff and students in colleges and secondary schools, the government is now extending twice-weekly testing to households and childcare support bubbles of primary and secondary school children as they return to school, as well as adults working in the wider school community such as bus drivers and after school club leaders.
More rapid testing for the school community will mean more positive cases within households are found and prevented from entering schools and colleges. So if you’re offered a test, please do take it.
Primary school children will not be regularly asymptomatically tested due to the challenges of repeated testing in this younger age group but detecting cases in their households and care bubbles will help prevent transmission in primary schools. However, this age group will continue to need to come forward for tests if they have symptoms.
Getting into the habit of regular testing as part of our everyday lives will play an important role as restrictions are lifted and we begin to get back to more normal ways of life.
But while we are on the right path, it is really important not to let our guard down to avoid risking the good work we have made to reduce infections, hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19.
We know that infection rates in schools mirror infection rates in the wider community, which is why it’s essential that everyone continues to follow the restrictions that are in place and remembers Hands Face, Space.