OPINION

Winter is coming – but ministers seem unprepared for another wave of covid in schools

Posted On 24 Aug 2022 at 9:09 pm

Last month we wrote to James Cleverly, the new Secretary of State for Education, to urge the government to use the summer break to add vital protections to our schools in preparation for a hard covid winter ahead.

The summer term ended on the crest of yet another covid wave – the third so far this year. Figures for July from the Department for Education (DfE) showed pupil attendance falling to its lowest level since January, with 42,000 teachers and school leaders and 49,000 support staff also absent.

Any hopes that covid was going to settle down into just another seasonal bug have surely now bitten the dust.

The government’s current plan for our schools – to treat covid “like any other respiratory illness” – is not working.

Spacewords Brighton

For the past two and a half years, wave after wave of illness and disruption have crashed through our schools, leaving a mounting pile of problems behind them.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) now show teaching to have one of the highest rates of long covid of any profession.

DfE research shows more than a third of secondary schools and a quarter of primaries now reporting workforce challenges as a result of the ever-rising tide of long covid.

Children’s health is also suffering. The ONS Covid-19 Schools Infection Survey shows almost 1 in 50 primary school children and 1 in 20 at secondary school experiencing long covid. That is, symptoms following a covid-19 infection which have affected their day-to-day life for three months or more.

Many of course will recover from these symptoms but these are significant periods of time for so many young people to have their daily lives impeded.

And with one covid-19 wave now following so closely after another, many will be exposed to the virus again before they are fully recovered.

The problem of course with treating covid-19 “like any other respiratory illness” is that it isn’t like any other respiratory illness, no matter how much we want it to be.

It has become clear over the past two years that covid-19 is a multi-systemic disease capable of affecting organs and systems throughout the body.

It leaves a significant minority of sufferers with long-term health problems in the form of long covid and can cause brain damage and diabetes.

It also increases the probability of strokes and heart attacks and, we’re now coming to realise, is capable of evading immunity to cause reinfection several times in the course of a year.

A lateral flow test

For children and young people, the main issue of covid-19 is its transmissibility. Most who catch it will have mild or asymptomatic illnesses, with only a small percentage suffering more serious outcomes.

But because the virus spreads so easily in busy indoor settings like our schools, without protections a very large number of children will catch it in each wave. And a small percentage of a very large number soon adds up to a lot of largely avoidable health problems for our young people.

Of course, our schools are not just filled with young people. Lots of adults work there. Some are clinically vulnerable. Some are in their fifties and sixties. All are put at risk by being asked to work without protection from this virus.

The government urgently needs a new plan for schools. Covid-19 is airborne and spreads where people share air as they speak, shout and sing.

We wrote to the Secretary of State for Education to implore him to use the summer to implement the measures needed to bring down transmission in our classrooms.

We asked him to finally start the work of installing and/or upgrading ventilation systems in all schools. Staff cannot be expected to keep windows open in biting January winds and teach wearing their coats for the third winter running.

In our letter, we asked for HEPA filters to clean virus particles out of the air in every classroom: working alongside ventilation, this simple and effective technology should be in all schools by now.

On top of this, the use of FFP2 and FFP3 facemasks in schools needs to be encouraged whenever infection rates are high.

The provision of free lateral flow tests should also be restored for school staff and pupils, along with guidance for even asymptomatic pupils to self-isolate to break chains of transmission.

And there needs to be a push to increase vaccination rates in children and young people, particularly among 5 to 11-year-olds. The uptake in this age group is worryingly low.

Our third covid winter is coming and without action from government our schools will face another year of cold classrooms, huge heating bills and an ever-spreading virus and another term of sick children, staff absences and plummeting morale.

“Living with covid” has to be made more than a slogan. To live with the virus, schools need protections. Installing them at speed and with priority is the only realistic and sustainable plan.

We asked the government to use the summer break to implement it. To date we still await action – or even a reply.

Councillor Sarah Nield is the Green chair of Brighton and Hove City Council’s Adult Social Care and Public Health Sub-Committee, deputy chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board and a member of the Children, Young People and Skills Committee.

  1. Gary Gibbon Reply

    Roll on next years elections so we can boot these idiots out.

    • Christopher Hawtree Reply

      Rather than sound off in this fatuous way, you need to consider the medical points made in the article – and reflect upon how it might feel to have a respirator in your throat should your life be in peril from this complex disease. Life is very short – and, in these times, could be even shorter.

      • Gary Gibbon Reply

        Been there had that. You two should stick to what you know and that’s sweet f/a.

      • Peter Challis Reply

        Please stop the scaremongering misinformation in support of your grandstanding Green Party colleagues.

        If you have the recommended vaccinations then Covid-19 is no worse than a bad cold.

        • Christopher Hawtree Reply

          No, as the article says, there are consequences of covid. The winter could well bring a return of death. Preparations should be made to fend it off – as should have been done in early 2020.

          • Peter Challis

            How many Green Party councillors are trained in virology and epidemiology?

            Seems most are ignorant of all STEM subjects and are quick to jump on any bandwagon they think will make the party look less incompetent.

            I prefer to listen to qualified experts in the NHS and Public Health England rather than the likes of Sarah Nield, Phelim Mac Cafferty, and yourself.

        • Christopher Hawtree Reply

          Well, it sounds as though you are willing to dice with Death but that does not mean that others should be obliged to do so.

          • fed-up with brighton politics

            Please do stop this, Christopher. You’ve been doom-mongering ever since Covid started. I am someone who is very probably much more at risk than you are, but I’ve had the jabs I’m entitled to so far and will have the next one when allowed. If I get it, then I get it, but I am no longer prepared either to listen to doom-mongers or to be locked down. You don’t even acknowledge the very serious adverse effects that lockdowns and doom-mongering have had on very many people and your posts are all about you.

            You just go your own way and let the rest of us make our own choices and decisions, please.

          • Christopher Hawtree

            It is not doom-mongering (cliché). At the beginning, in 2020, I said that it was set to mutate, as it did, and boggled that the “government” thought the lockdown could be stopped over Chrisrmas, as if the disease would somehow stop spreading. The current number of cases bodes ill for the imminent onset of winter. Anybody can catch it but precautions lengthen the odds. Not to mentions decisions made in other countries.

        • Janet J Reply

          Only people that work in the private sector think covid is minor when vaccinated. Anyone employed by Brighton Council seems to think that even when vaccinated it is bubonic plague.

  2. Tony Harper Reply

    Councillor Nield – who sneered at people stuck in a traffic jam caused by the OSR cycle lane, and then lied about it at a Full Council meeting. How was she not forced to resign? Remember this, if she has the audacity to stand again in may 2023

  3. Jason Reply

    Simple answer. Look at central government.

    Idiots, clowns and criminals, almost without exception, and it seems not one is capable of telling the truth, or even of understanding what truth is.

  4. John Henty Reply

    May 2023 is coming, when we can get rid of this person and the other Green liars and deceivers

    • Martin P Reply

      Another local councillor with delusions of grandeur. Your supposed to be serving local residents.

      • Phoebe Barrera Reply

        But with ambitions of a career in Westminster? 🤔

  5. punter Reply

    typical scaremongering by who-he/she? cllr. =

  6. Nathan Adler Reply

    Has Cllr Neild lost the plot. We should worry that children may catch covid? If your vulnerable get the booster and remain cautious but for everyone else with a cost of living crisis we need to carry on living our lives. It’s almost like some Green Councilors enjoyed the control exercised through lockdowns and other restrictions which I find very worrying…

  7. Jason Reply

    It’s time Bozo the Downing Street monkey and accomplices put a stop to all this scaremongering over a particularly bad ‘flu season that’s long gone by now.

    Yes, people die of the ‘flu, but NO infectious disease goes on for three years.

    I agree that we need to prepare for the 2022 ‘flu season, but to pretend the 2019 ‘flu is still with us is ludicrous.

    Once politicians seize power, there’s no stopping them, so we can be sure there’ll be more house arrests (the correct term for what was imposed in 2020) and more businesses destroyed unnecessarily while a few favoured organisations – especially one named after a big river – cash in on their enforced closures.

  8. Billy Short Reply

    It looks like the Greens are in way over their heads again.
    In trying to show they ‘know better’ about health issues than our absentee national government they have simply jumped down a rabbit hole of stupidity.

    Ask around to see who you know wants – or is willing – to go back into lockdown measures this winter?
    Would people comply if asked to wear masks again?

    No, it’s not gonna happen. We can’t give up the working income again, or the social engagement time.
    No more stupid rules.

    A booster jab will suffice and then we’ll all take our chances, as with any winter flu.

    • fed-up with brighton politics Reply

      Absolutely right, Billy. The Greens would be better employed in running basic council services that we pay through the nose for and don’t get, but they are totally incapable of doing it and just pontificate on irrelevant matters for which they have no qualifications or knowledge. I’ve never had a flu jab or winter flu, but have had all the Covid jabs I’m currently entitled to and will have the next one when allowed to.

      Currently, there is the energy crisis and renewed debate re fracking, so we can be sure that La Lucas and the Greens will be campaigning strongly against that and never mind those of the population who are in dire straits with energy bills already.

  9. Jane T Reply

    The nasty sneering councillor speaks. Sarah – probably better to keep your head below the parapet

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