Public Health England has published guidance for schools and other educational settings about how they should respond to COVID-19, or “coronavirus”.
According to the agency, the guidance is not new, and is likely to be made up of things schools already know, but it brings together all of their advice in one place for the first time.
Here are the main things schools need to know.
1. Call 111 or 999 if you believe someone has been exposed
If pupils or staff become unwell and believe they have been exposed to COVID-19, either through travel to China and other affected countries or contact with a confirmed case, they should call 111 (or 999 if they are seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk).
Schools can do this on the patient’s behalf, but, critically, should NOT advise them to go to their GP, a pharmacy or a hospital.
Schools should also call 111 if they have any pupils or staff who have travelled from anywhere in Hubei Province, including Wuhan in the past 14 days, even if they are well.
2. Find somewhere to isolate them
Anyone who is unwell and believed to have been exposed to the virus should be kept at least two 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 office or meeting room,” says PHE.
“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.”
Rooms used for isolation will need to be cleaned after use, and patients should use a separate bathroom to the rest of the school.
3. No need to close your school if you suspect exposure
Even if someone in a school has been in contact with a suspected case, there is no need for restrictions or special control measures while laboratory test results are awaited.
There is “no need to close the setting or send other learners or staff home”, PHE says.
Because the NHS is testing a “very large” number of people returning from affected countries and the “vast majority” test negative, there is “no action that staff members need to take” until the outcome of tests on suspected cases is known.
“Once the results arrive, those who test negative for COVID-19 will be advised individually about return to education.”
4. Do a risk assessment if a case is confirmed
If schools have a confirmed case of COVID-19 among staff or pupils, they must conduct a risk assessment with help from one of PHE’s health protection teams. This will include advice about cleaning.
According to PHE, “in most cases, closure of the childcare or education setting will be unnecessary but this will be a local decision based on various factors such as establishment size and pupil mixing”.
5. Isolate those who have been in contact with confirmed cases
PHE defines “a contact” as follows…
– any pupil, student or staff member in close face-to-face or touching contact including those undertaking small group work (within 2 metres of the case for more than 15 minutes)
– talking with or being coughed on for any length of time while the individual is symptomatic
– anyone who has cleaned up any bodily fluids of the individual
– close friendship groups
– any pupil, student or staff member living in the same household as a confirmed case, or equivalent setting such as boarding school dormitory or other student accommodation
Anyone who fits any of these descriptions will be asked to self-isolate at home (or within their dormitory if they are at boarding school) for 14 days from the last time they had contact with the confirmed case and follow guidance on home isolation.
If they develop any symptoms within their 14-day isolation period, they should call 111 for assessment.
6. Clean surfaces properly
According to PHE, coronavirus symptoms are similar to a flu-like illness.
Once someone is symptomatic, all surfaces they come into contact with must be cleaned “using disposable cloths and household detergents, according to current recommended workplace legislation and practice”.
“All waste that has been in contact with the individual, including used tissues, and masks if used, should be put in a plastic rubbish bag and tied when full. The plastic bag should then be placed in a second bin bag and tied.
“It should be put in a safe place and marked for storage until the result is available. If the individual tests negative, this can be put in the normal waste.”