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spires from Carfax

reopening English schools

It will be some time before reopening schools in England (for all children) is practical. They're just starting to do that in Australia, where infection rates are less than one hundredth of those here (with around 10 new cases a day instead of 5000, despite more aggressive testing). But we can think about how that should be done, once infection rates are much lower and a robust test-and-trace system is in place.

Given how willing the government seems to be to fiddle numbers just to improve its public image, any attempt at explicit criteria for infection levels needs to be carefully worded! Maybe before schools reopen there need to be fewer than 200 new infections daily, across the UK, for seven days running and, for any individual school, fewer than two new infections per day per million people in the local authority.

It seems to me that the key to doing this with the least risk, and so it attracts broad support, will be collaboration between individual schools and government (and government agencies). Public health teams, including infectious disease specialists, need to go into every school and work out, with the staff (and possibly the parents association), a set of procedures and policies that will allow them to operate as safely as possible. Full social distancing is obviously going to be impossible, but that doesn't prevent other measures for risk reduction being useful.

Now much of this can be centralised, but a lot of concerns are unique to each school. This is most obvious spatially. Each school has different classroom and playground and overall layouts, and thus different patterns of movement during the day. School entries and approaches are also different, which affects the pickup and dropoff crowding, as are catchment housing densities and the ways children get to school.

There's also a lot of variation in demographics. Children may be unlikely to catch Covid-19 (though the evidence on this still seems unclear), but there are some who are immunosuppressed or have other health problems that make them vulnerable, and many live with vulnerable parents or grandparents. Teaching staff face similar concerns. And the numbers involved vary between schools, as do interactions with other vulnerabilities and safeguarding concerns. Early years units are radically different to sixth form colleges!

Provision of resources is going to be critical: personal protective equipment, temporary building works, cleaning services, rapid access to contact-tracing when cases are detected, and so forth. But just as important will be training staff and providing them (and parents) with the information needed to implement policies, national or local, and explaining why they are necessary and why they matter. The entire process needs to be open and transparent -- and some community concerns may be misguided, but they will still need to be addressed.

Unfortunately national government in the UK seems to have an aversion to community collaboration and more generally to investing in people and human resources. Witness the history of adversarial relationships with teachers, police, doctors, and workers generally. And academisation and stripping of funding from local authorities has crippled the logical entity for coordinating this. (Openness and transparency also seem out of fashion and, perhaps as a result of Brexit, the UK government even appears to have broken its traditional ties with the corporate world, with the result that it can't even coordinate industrial policy, contrast South Korea and Germany. But that's another story.)

So what I fear we will get instead are top-down decrees - "schools will reopen on such and such a date", "people over 65 aren't allowed to work as teachers", "masks are banned/mandatory" - without real consideration of how they will work in practice, or proper resourcing to enable them to be implemented. This will come with a mix of coercion (with Ofsted or a similar body doing periodic inspections to ensure centrally-mandated public health policies are being followed), semi-surreptitious "nudges", and unpredictable and unbalanced provision of resources (probably in the form of funding for ad hoc private schemes thought up by people who happen to have the ear of a minister).


  1. As kids can't transmit the virus (our PM Morrison and his experts have been declaring this every day for month) all kids should just return to school tomorrow, with no measures, social distancing or anything needed. Having failed to convince the states, teachers, unions and parents of this they just relying on simply bribery and threats, the carrot and stick, to try and bring this about. Morrison is threatening Vic to return students to school, and the wealthy private schools there are threatening to sue if Andrew doesn't remove the ban and let them resume making money again.

    Of course one child, who tested positive yesterday, had been at a childcare for 2 days previously, so they called all the parents to collect the kids and shut it down until it can cleaned and all close contacts tested. The source of the infection can't be found. All totally unnecessary.

    Meanwhile, the PM again stresses that management and suppression are the goal not elimination. The problem is that Qld, NT, WA, SA and NZ, by closing their borders to NSW, Vic and the ACT, have managed to suppress community transmission down to zero. Tas. is one outbreak to contain from being in a similar position. And 100 epidemiologists and economists have produced a more detailed model that shows they will have 5% more economic growth per month than under Morrison's management and suppression model in NSW and Vic. So good luck getting them to open them up again in a hurry.

    Clubs are also threatening action if Governments don't allow unrestricted access by alcoholics and gambling addicts to their beverages and pokies. Otherwise these vital tax exempt community organisations will go bust because they can't survive without them.

    The UK isn't the only Commonwealth that is dysfunctional.

    Comment by Pertinax — April 2020
  2. And of course now you will have to worry about children with multi-organ failure. This virus just keeps coming up with nasty surprises.

    The NHS has found 20 children with multiple organ failure. Which is not surprising since there are ACE II receptors in the kidneys, liver, pancreas. Spain and Italy have reported the same.

    The dangers of making plans before you have had time to collect data, analyse and test it.

    And of course staying indoors during lock down reduces your vitamin D, which we have found this week also makes you more vulnerable to severe cases and possibly death.

    Comment by Pertinax — April 2020

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