English faculties informed to delay searching for assist with small Covid outbreaks | Division for Training
Universities, schools and kindergartens in England have been advised to postpone seeking help managing Covid-19 outbreaks until a cluster of up to 10% of employees, students or children is infected with the virus.
A new “Emergency Framework” issued by the Department for Education (DfE) for all educational institutions in England – from universities and colleges to tutoring and youth clubs – recommends taking preventive measures such as wearing masks or distance learning only after consulting with the public officials when a “threshold” of infections has been reached.
Union leaders from schools, universities and colleges said the updated framework is likely inadequate. Meanwhile, a comment in the British Medical Journal states: “If the vaccination coverage is below 90%, colleges must rely on measures such as regular testing, masking and distancing to keep campus safe.”
Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said the government’s framework was “totally missing the point”. “A repetition of last year’s chaos – with thousands of students locked in their dormitories – can be avoided, but only if the government seriously addresses the mitigation rather than planning to act on the outbreaks and long shut the barn door close after the horse has jumped, ”Grady said.
The DfE states that when educational institutions are reopened in autumn “attendance restrictions should only be considered as a last resort”. The department’s goal is to avoid a repetition of the mass closings at the end of the last school year, when up to 1 million students were absent due to Covid-related reasons.
Instead, the DfE suggests that thresholds “can be used by attitudes as an indication of when to seek public health advice if they are concerned”. Until then, the only “additional measure” open to the institutions is to increase the ventilation or to hold the lessons outdoors, if possible.
The DfE suggests that thresholds could be groups of five children, schoolchildren, students, or employees who “likely have intermingled” who test positive for Covid-19 within a period of 10 days, or if 10% of the children, Schoolchildren, students or employees test positive within 10 days.
In smaller groups such as special education institutions with fewer than 20 students, the threshold could be two people with confirmed infections within 10 days.
At universities, the DfE defines “close mix” as students who take part in sporting or social activities or the same seminars or group learning or in households with shared facilities.
The framework states that participation restrictions “should only be considered as a short-term measure and as a last resort”. For individual settings, including schools, decisions about visiting restrictions should be made “in extreme cases on the recommendation of public health” when other measures have failed.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the framework follows the government’s decision to end self-isolation for close contact of positive Covid cases, as well as the use of student “bubbles” and contact tracing within schools.
“It is very important that NHS tests and tracings effectively control the transmission of the virus and that the emergency framework does not become the de facto Covid management system to varying degrees across the country,” said Barton.
In a British Medical Journal blog, two experts argued that until 90% of university staff and students are vaccinated, in the absence of vaccination records, mitigation measures such as mixed distance and face-to-face learning and wearing masks on campus should continue with increased ventilation and Test and trace programs.