In an article published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, we discuss how the UK can make its schools more Covid-secure. We were very grateful that Louise Voden, Head Teacher of the Nower Hill High School in Middlesex was able to contribute to the paper as a co-author.
Children are more likely than adults to have a mild or asymptomatic infection; hence, Covid-19 infection often goes undetected in children. When symptomatic, children shed the virus in similar quantities to adults and can infect others but it is unclear how infectious children with asymptomatic infections are. Large outbreaks of Covid-19 in schools have not been frequently reported but this may be because school outbreaks are rarely investigated in detail; for example, through the use of mass testing when after a case has been detected in a child, to determine the true infection rate among children in the school.
To keep schools open, there is an urgent need to implement more effective on-site mitigation strategies – with particular attention to ventilation and testing. In addition, it is essential that teachers and other school staff should be added to the priority list for vaccination. As far as ventilation is concerned, we suggest undertaking a feasibility study of implementing better ventilation and filtration systems in schools as well as some pilot work and research involving indoor air quality experts. Until then, keeping doors and windows open – for as much as is reasonably practicable – seems to be the best way forward.
Regarding Covid-19 tests, there is an urgent need to develop an appropriate guideline for schools on how staff and students should be tested regularly to work towards Covid-mitigated environment in schools. The recommendations on ventilation, testing and vaccination need to be combined with other infection control measures, such as wearing face masks or face coverings for staff and older students, regular cleaning of surfaces and frequent handwashing.
A failure to implement adequate control measures could result in Covid-19 outbreaks in schools then extending to the wider community, which would be a threat to public health, particularly for more vulnerable people such as the elderly, as well as leading to harm to children and families from school closures.