Teachers and school staff have been warned to be “more vigilant” as study confirmed that 67 cases of Covid-19 were recorded when schools went back in June.
The Public Health England analysis found there were 67 single confirmed cases, four “co-primary cases” (two or more linked cases diagnosed at the same time) and 30 outbreaks of Covid-19 in schools during June.
It came as the UK’s four Chief Medical Officers warned that children are more at risk of long-term harm if they do not attend school than if they return to the classroom despite coronavirus,
In a joint statement issued ahead of the reopening of schools next month, the advisers said children have an “exceptionally low risk of dying” from Covid-19.
They said “very few, if any” children and teenagers would come to long-term harm from the virus solely by attending school, while there was a “certainty” of harm from not returning.
The PHE analysis said the majority of cases linked to outbreaks were in staff and warned that school staff needed to be “more vigilant for exposure outside the school setting to protect themselves, their families and the educational setting”.
The analysis also said further school closures may be necessary in regions with increasing community infection but this should “be considered only in extremis”.
Education settings in England were asked to reopen to children in nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 at the start of June, extending to Year 10 and 12 students from June 15, the analysis said.
But it said the reopening was not mandatory and was met with “mixed responses”, with only 1.6 million of the 8.9 million pupils nationally attending any educational setting during the “summer mini-term”.
The analysis also said the majority of cases linked to outbreaks were in staff, and warned staff need to be “more vigilant” for exposure outside the school.
It found that in half of the 30 confirmed outbreaks, the “probable transmission direction” was staff-to-staff, with seven staff-to-student, six student-to-staff and two student-to-student.
But it said early detection and isolation of staff and students can prevent the progression of an outbreak “in most cases”.
It added: “Within the educational setting, the higher risk of SARS-CoV-2 among staff highlights a need to strengthen infection control measures at two levels
“Staff members need to be more vigilant for exposure outside the school setting to protect themselves, their families and the educational setting.
“Within the education premises, stringent infection control measures between staff need to be reinforced, including use of common staff rooms and cross-covering staff across bubbles.”
It mirrored comments from the medical chiefs.
The chief and deputy chief medical officers said schools were not a “common route of transmission”, and that teachers were not at any increased risk of dying compared to the general working-age population.
However, they noted that data from UK and international studies suggested transmission in schools may be largely staff to staff rather than pupils to staff.
“This reinforces the need to maintain social distancing and good infection control inside and outside classroom settings, particularly between staff members and between older children and adults,” they said.
The advisers noted that reopening schools has not been usually followed by a surge in Covid-19 transmission but it could push the reproduction rate – the so-called R rate – above one.
If this happened it would require “local action and could mean societal choices” of imposing limitations on different parts of the community, they added.
Signatories to the consensus statement included England’s Professor Chris Whitty, Scotland’s Dr Gregor Smith, Wales’ Dr Frank Atherton and Northern Ireland’s Dr Michael McBride.