COVID-19 testing needed in schools – Durham University

Child having temperature check

Daily Covid-19 testing in schools would keep children in full-time education safe, stop the mass spread, and keep the economy afloat, according to Professor Abderrahim Taamouti.

Professor Taamouti has previously developed an epidemic model to study the trade-off between Covid-19 control, lockdown and testing.

The model shows that Covid-19 mass testing is the safest and cheapest way to reopen the economy and society. The model stated that a high testing capacity of between 4-7% of the UK population each day is needed to control infection, without going into another lockdown.

Daily Covid-19 testing in schools would keep children in full-time education safe, stop mass spread, and keep the economy afloat, according to Professor Abderrahim Taamouti.

This testing policy also applies to the education sector if we’re to ensure children’s education is not a stop-start process and children stay in their classrooms full-time. The education sector is a critical one in terms of spread, given the difficulties in social distancing, and the large crowds of children and teachers from numerous households all interacting indoors.

Professor Taamouti mentions how current Covid-19 measures in schools include:

  • encouraging all to wash their hands
  • creating bubbles within the school years
  • advising for masks to be worn in between classrooms.

However, there are currently no mandatory testing procedures in place for teachers or pupils.

Given bubbles of school children and teachers are now having to take weeks out of education if a person in the bubble even displays symptoms, Professor Taamouti argues it’s very likely that many schoolchildren will miss vital education over the next academic year, explaining how the Children’s Commissioner has suggested around one in 20 children in England are currently out of school due to issues linked to the pandemic and lockdown.

Professor Taamouti said: “Schools cannot be left to their own fate and they must be equipped with testing to help them properly fight the spread of the virus and avoid outbreaks that can lead to their closure. Daily testing for teachers and pupils could help run the schools smoothly and reduce the anxiety of parents, ensuring children have no unnecessary breaks in their education, and can continue to learn without disruption.”

By employing this mass daily testing strategy in all schools, children would only have to self-isolate if they test positive themselves, not if someone in their bubble does, meaning the number of children missing school will drastically reduce. The knock-on effects of children staying at home on the economy, public health and workplaces will also in turn decrease.

“Outbreaks at schools will have a negative impact on children’s education, but also the economy and health system. Taking children out of schools will force parents to stay at home to look after them. Some parents might manage to work from home, but many will not due to the nature of their work. That is why it is so important that we are able to keep schools open, not only because children need their education, but also because of the knock-on effect closures would have,” Professor Taamouti.

Governments should provide schools with tests which ideally return the results in a short yield time, according to Professor Taamouti, that can then be used at any time when needed by the school. Those who test positive must isolate and the rest will stay at school. This will help identify false alarms and the asymptomatic cases that can induce outbreaks, and consequently school closures.

Now that we approach the winter, and flu season, Professor Taamouti points out how many parents may mistakenly stop children from going into school with Covid-19 symptoms that are actually the flu or a cold. Whilst, on the other hand, children may be sent to school with Covid-19, as the parents assume it is the flu or a cold, causing another outbreak and thus a school closure. It is now that this mass testing will become even more important for schools and children’s education.

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