With Covid-19 cases rising significantly amongst children and young people locally and nationally, Wokingham Borough Council is continuing to take a proactive approach in the way it supports local schools; working closely with headteachers to keep children in education and keep Covid out through their dedicated Children’s Covid-19 Taskforce.
Following a dip in Covid-19 infection rates in line with the half-term break, cases are now back on the rise. In fact, the weekly case rate per 100,000 people in the borough currently sits at 677.2 (up to 1 December) – but this figure is nearly three times higher amongst children aged five to nine.
The council is committed to keeping all its communities safe – particularly children and young people. As such and following recommendations from the Berkshire West Health Protection Board, it wrote to all schools on 12 November, advising them to consider implementing key measures for the remainder of the autumn term.
Some of these measures include face coverings in communal areas for staff and visitors (and pupils in secondary schools) and asking that primary school children, who are close contacts of positive cases, remain at home while they wait for their day 3 PCR test results. Primary and secondary schools have also been encouraged to keep risk assessments for any events and large gatherings/social mixing, under review.
The situation is moving at pace, and the council’s Children’s Covid-19 Taskforce are going above and beyond to support schools during this stressful time. They are in daily contact with headteachers by phone, email, and virtual meetings, providing advice, guidance, and important information to share with parents and guardians.
Residents are also reminded that, in line with the latest announcements from Central Government, all children and young people will need to wear face coverings on dedicated and public transport from Tuesday 30 November and all staff as well as secondary-aged pupils will need to wear face coverings in communal school areas unless exempt.
Cllr Graham Howe, executive member for children’s services, said: “Primary schools are in the eye of the Covid storm right now and the taskforce are working tirelessly to support them in every way possible. It’s a similar picture in secondary schools, though the vaccination programme for 12-to-15 year-olds has helped ease the pressure slightly as many young people were able to get protected ahead of, and during, the half term break.
“There are still a few weeks left of term and we are calling upon the parent and guardian community to be understanding of decisions made by our local schools. Ultimately, when a child is in school the school is responsible for safeguarding them, and head teachers will always put children’s best interest at the heart of everything they do. Each school will make its own decisions based on staffing and local circumstances, so what might be possible in one might not in another.
“We’re all keen to get back to a more normal way of life and want to celebrate together in the run-up to Christmas. But the risk of catching and passing the virus on remains. Where possible, we are supporting schools to go ahead with Christmas events and will always advise on the most appropriate options based on their circumstances. After all, we do have to remain cautious and not undo all the great work that’s been done so far.”
The Covid-19 Children’s Taskforce are also supporting local independent schools, and recently arranged for a mobile PCR testing unit to visit Holme Grant School in Wokingham, following an outbreak of cases in all year groups.
Claire Robinson, Headteacher of Holme Grange School, said: “Wokingham Borough Council and [the] NHS have been absolutely fantastic in working with us to stop the spread of Covid in our school. In Kindness week, we could not have had a better ‘gift’ of support, understanding and teamwork. Thank you so much for working with us to ensure our children come first and [that] we do all we can to keep our schools open.”
“Receiving first-hand feedback from the schools our team support is truly heart-warming,” said Cllr Howe. “We know the education system is under a great deal of pressure right now, with many head teachers operating in a fast-paced, challenging environment, and needing to factor in staff absences to their contingency plans. We want to thank our community for bearing with our local schools as they navigate these choppy waters, and urge everyone to be cautious, careful, and kind in the run up to Christmas.”
The council is reminding residents of the following Covid-19 advice in the run-up to the festive season:
- Wear a face covering inside shops and on public transport (unless you are exempt) – this is compulsory from Tuesday 30 November
- If you have Covid-19 symptoms, you should book a PCR test through Gov.uk, or by calling 119
- If you test positive for Covid-19, you must follow the self-isolation guidance
- All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status. They will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace.
- Stay home if you feel unwell to avoid spreading your illness to others
- Take rapid lateral flow tests before events where you’re mixing with others, or before seeing people who are at higher risk of illness
- If you test positive on a lateral flow test, you should self-isolate and book a confirmatory PCR test through Gov.uk, or by calling 119
- All international arrivals to the UK must take a Day 2 PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result
- Continue to take preventative measures, such as regular hand washing, wearing a face covering and letting fresh air in when meeting people indoors