In Boris Johnson’s address to the nation on Sunday 10th May, he said that schools may re-open for some pupils from June 1st at the earliest.
From Monday 18th May
Prof Matthew Snape, Associate Professor in Paediatrics and Vaccinology, Oxford Vaccine Group, University of Oxford NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, said:
“As a paediatrician I can understand parents’ concerns about whether having their children in schools could increase their risk of COVID-19 infection, however we do know that only a very small number of children become unwell with this disease. Also, it seems that the children who get COVID-19 infections do not become ‘super-spreaders’, unlike what we see in other respiratory viruses such as influenza. Both of these provide reassurance that opening schools is a relatively low-risk intervention. Nevertheless the secondary effects of opening schools, such as increased interactions between teachers, and between parents at the school gate, needs to be carefully managed.”
From Saturday 16th May
The following comment from Prof Faust was originally published on Friday 15th May, but has been updated following the British Medical Association’s letter to the NEU regarding schools reopening.
Prof Saul Faust, Professor of Paediatric Immunology & Infectious Diseases, University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, said:
“We know from the current data that children have fewer symptoms and appear to have different transmission dynamics to adults. Children may possibly have shorter/fewer viral excretions from coughing, speaking, etc but we cannot be sure and more research is needed in this area (including on blood tests – such as the What’s the STORY national study (https://whatsthestory.web.ox.ac.uk).
“We also know that children are not getting very sick overall. Patients with the inflammatory syndrome associated with COVID-19 are rare and a very tiny minority of children are dying from COVID-19 – far, far fewer deaths than from sepsis or cancer for example.
“The ONS data found that children were as likely to test positive for having the virus as adults. This is not a surprise and is not incompatible with children having fewer symptoms for a shorter time and infecting less people than adults (ie. This data doesn’t tell us if adults or children gave the children the infections in families who were studied by ONS). A study from Spain of 70000 people looking at antibodies seems to say 1-3% children have been affected and 5% adults (but these findings needs to be interpreted with caution as it is not peer reviewed or professionally translated data.)
“Society has to reopen, children need to return to school as there are negatives for many of having to stay at home and we need to be able study transmission dynamics in all ages to help us learn how to manage this virus. Slowly opening schools in a controlled way will be of low risk to children’s health and less risk to teachers than the risk to many other workers when on public transport/in other work environments (and may be less risk to teachers who would be impacted by other professionals and workers returning to work). It will also allow us to learn more about the impact of children, teachers and parents on transmission in the population in a way that almost certainly allows far lower transmission/impact than widespread undoing of lockdown all in one go. Opening schools in a controlled manner is also far less risky in terms of the disease recurrence/risk to families (including teachers) than adults going back to work and children not going to school.
“Children, teenagers, parents and teachers are likely to be app and technology enabled so carefully reopening schools will also be using for learning about these approaches in a lower risk environment.
“I have 3 children under the age of 13 who have been attending school part time during the lockdown period as my wife and I are keyworkers. From studying the current scientific data, I do not feel this – or a return to school more widely – places my family at any significance risk. For families who are shielding for older family members with other conditions, the risk needs to be considered individually for that family and no blanket rules applied. Similarly the new NICE guideline for children who are immune suppressed or on immune-suppressing treatments allows clinical teams to assess the shielding need individually (https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng174) – only a small proportion of very immune suppressed children (such as immediately following bone marrow transplant) will not be able to go to school as the schools reopen – but NICE make clear people should discuss this with a child’s own clinical team”.
Commenting on the British Medical Association letter to the NEU regarding schools reopening:
“The BMA have caused headlines by focussing on the wrong part of the debate and by doing so have not presented a balanced representation of their members views. In order for schools to re-open, no-one disagrees that testing, effective track and trace apps and mechanisms to quarantine and observe children, families and teachers with symptoms all need to be in place. As doctors and scientists, this is perhaps where we can best help the national working alongside colleagues at Public Health England.”
Dr Alasdair Munro, Clinical Research Fellow in Paediatric Infectious Diseases, University of Southampton, said:
“The letter from the BMA to the NEU regarding schools reopening contains clear errors in interpretation of the evidence of transmission in children. The German study examining viral loads did not find children were “just as likely to be infected as adults”. It made no comment on this at all, but did find substantially lower numbers of children positive for SARS-CoV-2 in the cohort. In addition, the study did not demonstrate children are “just as infectious” as adults. The study made no firm conclusions, but did find viral load increased with age (kruskal-wallis test p=0.01). Whilst not the sole indicator of how infectious an individual is, this certainly does not indicate children are as infectious as adults”.
From Friday 15th May:
Dr Catherine Carroll-Meehan, Head of School of Education and Sociology, University of Portsmouth said:
“There is no reason why SAGE and the Government should not be presenting the data regularly to the whole country about the decisions that are being made about the impact of the virus and the risks attached to reopening.
“The British public has trusted this advice to date and we have seen the impact of following the strict social distancing policies. Some stark facts about the incidence of the virus and the number of recoveries should be published to allay fears.
“There are several issues that are competing here. One is those children who are vulnerable and at-risk and the role, that education plays in safeguarding them. Secondly, there are parents who need to access childcare and education in order to work and for many families, this decision is financial and not returning to work would put their children at a greater risk of poverty. Then there are the ‘middle-class’ families who have some choices and are probably more likely to continue to work from home and continue with juggling work and schooling of children. These competing groups and needs are not simple to appease. The Teachers’ unions are representing their members and rightly so, but again, the numbers need to be looked at and we need the scientific data about the population, rates of infection, hot spots and an effective test, track and trace system in place.
“Given that we are in warmer months, a compromise might be to have children return to education and use outdoor learning spaces, parks, playgrounds in addition to the classroom. The Danish have recently opened schools and applied social distancing effectively.
“The key to this is knowing who has the virus, who is symptomatic and asymptomatic, testing for anti-bodies and reassuring the public about safety.”
From Tuesday 12th May
Prof Matt Keeling, Professor of Populations and Disease, University of Warwick, said:
“Any form of additional mixing will inevitably lead to an increase in R, and hence more cases – however, all the current evidence suggests that children are not suffering substantially from this pandemic. This could be because they are less susceptible or because they show fewer symptoms when infected, there is no firm scientific data to determine which of these is true. This means that opening some school classes is unlikely to push R above one; a conclusion supported by our mathematical modelling studies.
“The government proposal of nursery, years 1 and 6 returning (rather than any other years) is largely made on educational and welfare ground – epidemiological it is impossible to distinguish between any year-groups. The idea of only half the children being in school should mean that classes can be half the size, which will help with social distancing, further preventing a substantial rise in R. This would all suggest that any phased opening of school is unlikely to cause huge problems.
“However, in many regions of the country or sections of society, R is only just below 1 – so it wouldn’t take much to tip the balance. It’s therefore very important that:
“(i) schools should only re-open if we continue to see a pronounced decline in cases;
“(ii) re-opening is done steadily in a phased manner, so that the effects can be monitored;
“(iii) consideration is given to the health and safety of children, teachers and other staff who may be at increased risk if infected;
“(iv) the opening of schools does not lead to greater mixing among parents and others in the school environment.”
All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink: