South Tyneside Council urges schools to reintroduce masks and ramp up testing to tackle rising Covid cases

South Tyneside Council has written to schools urging them to “strengthen their Covid arrangements” including the wearing of face covering by secondary age pupils in classrooms.

The shift in policy comes as the most recently published Government data shows by far the highest prevalence of the virus can be found in secondary aged pupils 10 to 14.

In this demographic the case rate on October 29 over the previous rolling seven day period was 1,000 per 100,000 people. It was even higher at the start of half-term with a rate of 1,303 cases per 100,000 people.

It’s a situation which has caused disruption in schools and has prompted the Council to act.

A Council spokesman said: "We would like to thank families for their ongoing support. While we would all like the pandemic to be over, sadly it is still very much with us. Many children had their education affected in the first half of this term by outbreaks of Covid and high levels of staff and student absence.

"If children are to have as normal and positive school experience as possible, then we all have a role to play in doing all we can to contain the spread of the virus.

"In light of increasing numbers of infections among school age children, and in line with national schools guidance, we have written to schools advising that they consider strengthening their Covid arrangements based on the context of each individual school and their risk assessments.

“One recommendation includes face coverings being worn in classrooms and communal areas for secondary age pupils and in communal areas for all adults. We also encourage all parents and carers to wear a face covering when dropping off or collecting children, and when using public or shared transport.”

South Tyneside Council's Public Health Director Tom Hall has written to secondary schools urging them to reintroduce Covid measures including the wearing of face coverings.

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A number of secondary schools have posted the letter, addressed from Director of Public Health Tom Hall, on their website.

In the letter Mr Hall states: “Even though adults who test positive may not become ill, many are absent from work because of household transmission from their children, or because they need to care for children who have tested positive. This is impacting on children’s education and critical services such as the NHS and social care.

“We are also seeing increases in infections across the borough and infections in school age children have been the main contributory factor to our rate of Covid in recent weeks.

“This means we now need to consider what we can do to reduce the transmission of Covid in our schools and in the community.”

In addition to the recommendation of a return to face coverings, Mr Hall also goes on to urge schools to reintroduce other restrictive measures including implementing measures to reduce mixing of classes and age groups, a return to virtual meetings and open days, suspension of whole school or year group events, limiting outside visitors, and “giving careful consideration” to whether educational visits should go ahead.

The letter also urged a ramping up of testing with secondary school children carrying out lateral flow tests twice per week and PCR testing for individuals who have been in contact with a positive case.

This shift in stance will be reviewed in two weeks time and then again at the end of November.

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