Table of Contents
What is Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses common across the world in both humans and animals. Some of these viruses cause humans to become ill.
For example, some coronaviruses cause the common cold and some are responsible for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
COVID-19 is the illness seen in people infected with a new strain of coronavirus and which in a small minority of cases can require hospital treatment.
Based on current evidence, the main symptoms of COVID-19 are a cough, a high temperature and, in severe cases, shortness of breath.
As it is a new virus, there is an almost complete lack of immunity in the population, and the absence, as yet, of an effective vaccine means that COVID-19 has spread extensively.
Among those who become infected, some will exhibit no symptoms and of those who develop an illness, the vast majority will have a mild-to-moderate illness, which is similar to seasonal flu.
However, a small minority of people who get COVID-19 will develop complications severe enough to require hospital care.
So far the data we have suggest that the risk of severe disease and death increases among elderly people and in people with underlying health risk conditions, in the same way as for seasonal flu.
A poster for schools produced by Public Health England can be found here and perhaps copies should be circulated to staff, put in a prominent position in the staff room or entrance way to a school.
Schools and Covid-19
Across the world Governments are closing down schools in an attempt to slow or stop the spread of covid-19 in their populations and protect the vulnerable. According to UNESCO, at the time of writing (12th March 2020), 22 countries had closed their schools, affecting more than 372 million students.
The DfE have launched a new helpline to answer questions about COVID-19 related to education. Staff, parents and students can contact the helpline as follows:
- Phone: 0800 046 8687
- Email: [email protected]
- Opening hours: 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday
Will UK Schools Close?
At this moment in time, it seems inevitable that UK schools will close to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Guidance at the Moment
Help prevent spread of infection
There are general principles anyone can follow to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses. It may be worthwhile reminding students of these principles that include:
- wash hands often and thoroughly with soap and water, or use alcohol sanitiser. As such, is it possible to put up more wall mounted alcohol sanitiser around the school?
- covering a cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throwing the tissue in a bin.
- students and teachers who feel unwell should stay at home
- pupils, students, staff and visitors should wash their hands:
- before leaving home
- on arrival at school
- after using the toilet
- after breaks and sporting activities
- before food preparation
- before eating any food, including snacks
- before leaving school
- avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
- avoid close contact with people who are unwell
- clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
What to do if a student is exhibiting symptoms.
Present advice for students exhibiting symptoms is to call NHS 111 and if appropriate, explain which country they have returned from in the last 14 days. You can do this on their behalf if this is easier. People who become unwell should be advised not to go to their GP, pharmacy, urgent care centre or a hospital.
Try to find somewhere safe for the student to sit which is at least 2 metres away from other people. If possible, find a room or area where they can be isolated behind a shut door, such as a staff room or meeting room and place a note on the outside of the door. If it is possible to open a window, do so for ventilation. They should avoid touching people, surfaces and objects and be advised to cover their mouth and nose with a disposable tissue when they cough or sneeze and put the tissue in the bin or bag. If you don’t have any tissues available, they should cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow.
The room will need to be cleaned once they leave. Thought should be given to cleaning their classroom.
If they need to go to the bathroom whilst waiting for medical assistance, they should use a separate bathroom if available.
Make sure that children and young people know to tell a member of staff if they feel unwell.
What to do if a case of Covid-19 is Confirmed in School.
The school will be contacted by the local Public Health England Health Protection Team to discuss the case with relevant staff and advise on any actions or precautions that should be taken. The Health Protection Team will produce a risk assessment with relevant staff. Advice on the management of pupils or students and staff will be based on this assessment.
In most cases, closure of the school will be unnecessary but this will be a local decision based on various factors such as establishment size and pupil mixing.
Once symptomatic, all surfaces that the suspected case has come into contact with must be cleaned using disposable cloths and household detergents.
- all surfaces and objects which are contaminated with body fluids
- all potentially contaminated high-contact areas such as toilets, door handles, telephones
Public areas where a symptomatic individual has passed through and spent minimal time in (such as corridors) but which are not visibly contaminated with body fluids do not need to be specially cleaned and disinfected.
School Closures due to Coronavirus.
Schools in the UK are preparing by:
- setting up access to online learning resources
- getting work packs ready for pupils to take home
- planning an adjusted timetable
- cancelling events and meetings.
It does appear that even if schools are closed teachers may be expected to be in school, allocating work and supporting students and their parents. However, school leaders would be well advised to ensure teachers have adequate IT devices at home to support learners during the school day.
This can’t be stressed enough: you need contact details for your students and their parents. Mobile numbers, emails and addresses.
Schools should already have plans in place for snow days and have plans for how to communicate with parents.
School websites may well become the centre of information for parents and so should be modifiable by senior staff.
Jennie Devine, a principal of a school in lockdown in Milan, Italy, says the initial impact of closure on the timetable was that staff worked even longer hours, as they attempted to reply to every comment and response they received from pupils, taking up a lot of time.
“During the first four days of online learning, teachers were extremely responsive and felt that every comment or query had to be dealt with immediately as they were committed to making the online learning a success,” she says.
However, this led to staff feeling exhausted after “being chained to the computer” for several hours a day.
As such, she says schools need to make it clear teachers are not there to work 24/7 and usual working hours should remain the norm.
We of course recommend Emile to all schools as it works on all devices – mobiles, tablets, computers – it requires little to no direct input by teachers as it is a smart system and we are providing it FREE to all schools affected by the Coronavirus.
Free School Meals
Sadly, there are a number of students who rely on their free school meals (at breakfast as well as lunch) for nourishment.
Exams - SATs, MTC, GCSEs,..??
Ofqual has issued guidance for schools and colleges on major disruption to exams. However, this document has not been drafted in response to COVID-19 but is for coping with general disruptions.
Over the weekend, it was reported that the DfE had issued new advice to schools on exam disruption but this is not the case – news stories were simply referring to these general guides.
Ofqual has today published a letter to schools and colleges on this summer’s exam series. Amongst a number of issues, it refers to potential disruption due to COVID-19 but for now tells students to prepare as usual and says Ofqual’s guidance will be updated if required.