The number of positive Covid cases closing pupil bubbles in schools across Thanet has raised concerns at a lack of guidelines for families with vulnerable members.
This month has seen positive cases confirmed at schools stretching from Ursuline in Westgate to Newland, Ramsgate Arts Primary and Chilton in Ramsgate, Upton in Broadstairs, St Gregorys in Margate and King Ethelbert in Birchington.
There have also been cases at Sandwich Tech, Dane Court, St Saviours, Northdown, Birchington, St George’s and Newington.
Since schools fully reopened in September almost every site on the isle has seen a positive case despite stringent measures to keep schools clean and separate pupils into bubbles to reduce contact.
Margate mum Michele Johnson (pictured) says she fears there is not enough information available to parents and her teenage daughter has now refused to return to college in case she catches the virus and ends up “killing” someone in the family.
Michele and husband Mark have four youngsters aged 17, 11 and two nine- year olds. She says government needs to set clearer guidelines, particularly for those who have vulnerable people within their families.
Michele, 58, said: “My concerns are the lack of guidelines for those that are vulnerable whether they be children or kids with vulnerable family members.
“I’m asthmatic with an asthmatic child in primary school. My 95 year old frail mother lives with us as she’s no longer able to care for herself and my husband has brittle diabetes.
“If any of our children brought the virus home it could be devastating to our family.
“We’re just not getting enough information. Parents and children are huddled outside the school gates of primary schools twice a day. All the secondary school kids are huddled together until the gates open and then they put on masks. There is absolutely no social distancing!
“My eldest daughter, who goes to Thanet College got a scare when a teacher told a student they were shutting down the Welcome Building for a deep clean as there had been positive cases.
“People who are positive but not tested have been walking throughout colleges and schools spreading the virus. My daughter, who suffers with anxiety, is now refusing to go to college in case she kills one of us.
“Some people would say until someone is positive we can’t assume anything which on one hand is true but that brings us back to the vulnerable who can’t risk this haphazard attitude.”
Thanet parents say:
Ramsgate mum Nikki Sharp (pictured) says she has kept her seven-year-old daughter Erin out of school since half term because of safety concerns.
Nikki, who runs The Big Party Store in Newington Road, said: “I refused to send our daughter back to school after half term and have been home schooling her.
“We have our own small family run business which has had to shut again, my concerns for my daughter returning after half term were if I’m not allowed to have the few customers I have through the door of my shop because it is unsafe to do so how is it safe for me to send our daughter to school to sit in a classroom of 24 other children and two adults, therefore mixing with 26 other households.
“Our business has been massively affected because of Covid-19 to the point it may not even survive but we have followed all the rules to keep ourselves and our customers safe.
“I personally don’t think children should be at school. I understand that their education is very important and their mental health but surely getting this virus in our town under control is more important.”
But as cases rise some parents feel the safest measure would be to shut schools, perhaps along circuit breaker lines, while others feel youngsters do need to be in a school environment.
Georgina Olsen from Westgate is in a household of six with three family members classed as high risk.
She said: “My kids haven’t been in school since March 1. We’re trying to rock home schooling best we can. They won’t be going back until I feel it is safe for my house. We’re all in different situations and feel school should be optional, circumstances depending.”
Debbie Wilkinson agreed that the choice should be made by parents.
She said: “I think it should be the parents’ decision, without fear of being fined, based on their individual circumstances. As long as the kids are doing work, either online or delivered to the school weekly, then it really should be down to the parents.”
Meanwhile Paula Mitchell said her children’s schools have handled the situation well.
She said: “I’m personally grateful how my kids’ schools have handled all this lockdown stuff. I do feel them being back at school is the best for them so I am pleased with how their schools are running.”
Mark Ezekiel from Cliftonville says a circuit breaker should be used.
He said: “Have a “circuit breaker” as they call it. Instead of two weeks Christmas holiday have four with a lockdown in place. Maybe with the exception of Christmas Day when households can mix. or at least single households or bubbles etc. It won’t be ideal but it is what it is.”
Meanwhile Karen Rockall said she felt keeping schools open is the right option. She said: “My daughter is an only child and school is very important to her. Her school is handling the situation amazingly and as long as they are I would like her to access her education.”
Abbey Gerrard agreed, saying: “It should be personal choice, don’t petition to close schools when there are children that need it! My son’s autistic and they’re the only people that are helping with his progression
“If you feel unsafe pull your children. I know a lot of schools are not fining parents that do so.
I for one will be sending all three of mine until told not to. It is way more beneficial for them to go than to be isolated in a house for months on end.”
One of the issues though appears to be confusion over the isolation rules.
Jade Artt said: “There is something I don’t quite understand about the rules that are in place. One of my daughters was sent home from school because a child tested positive in her bubble but my other daughter still has to attend because and I quote” they are not in each other’s bubble” but they live together so I’m so confused on how this works.”
Self-isolation is required when a person has been in close contact with someone who has contracted the virus.
Government guidelines say a person who has been in close contact with an affected individual must self-isolate for 14 days.
Close contact is deemed to be:
Direct close contacts – face-to-face contact with an infected individual for any length of time, within one metre, including being coughed on, a face-to-face conversation or unprotected physical contact (skin-to-skin).
Proximity contacts – extended close contact (within one or two metres for more than 15 minutes) with an infected individual.
Travelling in a small vehicle, like a car, with an infected person.
National Education Union
The National Education Union says to stay safe schools require rapid testing, increased mask use, investment to cover Covid costs, rotas, the resources to make blended learning work, and protection for the vulnerable.
The union says without schools in the lockdown these measures become all the more urgent.
Government guidance for preventing Covid spread in schools says:
1) Minimise contact with individuals who are unwell by ensuring that those who have coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms, or who have someone in their household who does, do not attend school.
2) Where recommended, the use of face coverings in schools.
3) Clean hands thoroughly more often than usual.
4) Ensure good respiratory hygiene by promoting the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach.
5) Introduce enhanced cleaning, including cleaning frequently touched surfaces often, using standard products such as detergents.
6) Minimise contact between individuals and maintain social distancing wherever possible.
7) Where necessary, wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
8) Always keeping occupied spaces well ventilated.
Covid cases in Thanet and Kent
Kent Public Health previously said rising covid infection rates recorded in Thanet are mainly in workplace settings and care settings but also some household clusters.
Its most recent advice, issued today (November 11) says infection rates are continuing to increase across almost all districts in Kent and the increase appears to be predominately amongst people of working age, which means there is a higher risk of community transmission.
Reduce the rate of transmission by:
minimising social contact with people as much as possible
minimising leaving home as much as possible
wearing a mask in public places where appropriate
maintaining good hand hygiene.
Government dashboard data
Today’s (November 11) figures on the government coronavirus dashboard show 80 new cases reported for Thanet, making a total of 483 between November 5-11. This is a rise of 204 (or 73.1%) on the figure for the previous seven days.
The seven-day rolling rate of infection up to November 6 for Thanet is 282.5 per 100,000 residents. The total number of people in Thanet who have had a confirmed positive test result as of November 11 was 2,060.
There were two deaths within 28 days of a positive test for Coronavirus reported on 11 November for Thanet. The total number of people who have died within 28 days of testing positive for Coronavirus as of 10 November was 122.
Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate but may not be the primary cause of death.
Case data for the week ending November 7 published by Kent County Council says the rate of weekly cases in Thanet per 100,000 people now stands at 311.4 – taking the district about the rate for Swale and making it the highest in Kent.