Are schools really a ‘vector of transmission’?

We were told at one point that cricket balls were a ‘vector of transmission’ (Hansard). We are now told this is not such an issue (Strike research). This virus rapidly decays on surfaces, and it is close human contact that is most likely to be the spreading point.

Schools are shut (sort of) because the Prime Minister said they are a ‘vector of transmission’ due to having so many people moving, meeting and mixing when schools are fully open.

The prime minister noted that cases have been low in schools but said: "The problem is that they bring communities together, obviously, and large numbers of kids are a considerable vector of transmission.”

We hope, as you probably do, that we will hear tomorrow that schools will be open fully from 8th March. The risk of schools somehow being that point of transmission between households will remain, and we will remain concerned, cautious and careful.

Part of the problem has been not being able to identify where transmission occurs in the extended school day – On the walk to school? Calling in at the shop on the way? Talking to other parents at the gate? Through before and after school childcare? In the classroom? Playing together after school? Sharing a lift to the school gate? The Walking Bus? Waiting for the gate to open? Insufficient stagger and so crowded entrances / exits? Two-way corridors? The lunch queue? Mixing at playtimes? Using the same equipment as other pupils? Meeting up out of school?

The obvious answer, in wanting to get infection rates substantially and sustainably down, is to reduce the number of contacts we all have – hence the national lockdown. By having fewer contacts and less mixing, no matter how transmission was happening, there simply had to be less by having markedly fewer children in schools. We have no evidence of actual person-to-person transmission of the coronavirus while at our school, but we cannot rely on this fact as community protection.

We must remain concerned – this is still potentially a very serious illness, and it is being passed on somehow. We must stay cautious – as we may never know quite how schools can work as a ‘vector of transmission’, we may have to restrict the ways we function for as long as it takes for infections to reach a very low level for a substantial period. And we must be careful – so handwashing will stay in place; staff and adults in school will wear face coverings appropriately and we will all catch it, bin it, kill it; we will keep working in ‘bubbles’ and reduce as many larger groupings as we can across the full day; we will ventilate rooms while keeping them warm; we will insist that anyone with symptoms or a positive test in the household isolates for the required period before returning to school; we will continue to minimise contacts by keeping the number of site visitors reduced as far as practically possible and by having online meetings wherever possible.

So, we hope to see 479 pupils with us in school on Monday 8th March, with all the previous measures of control in place and being observed. I will, most likely like you will, be listening for the PM’s announcement.

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