Covid-19 and the Safe Reopening of Schools (August 2021)

The Conservative government continues to play Russian roulette with our lives, but so too do local Labour Councils like ours here in Leicester. Thus schools are reopening at exactly the same time that Covid-19 infection rates are rising and Leicester City’s Labour Council have decided to largely parrot the government’s line that masks no longer need to be worn by staff or students in our city’s schools and colleges.

This lack of opposition by Labour to the Tories’ dangerous unmasking policy is even encouraging some schools to refuse to allow staff to wear masks on school premises unless the staff can prove that masks do not affect their ability to teach!

This move away from mask wearing arrives at the same time that the government has belatedly been forced to make a small concession to trade union demands for safer working environments by giving state-run schools a measly £25 million to install carbon dioxide sensors in classrooms to promote better ventilation. But surely if the government truly believed that sensors are useful they should still be encouraging staff and students to wear masks, at least until the virus is under control.

Infection rates in Leicester are particularly worrying, as while the England rate of infection per 100,000 population is 327.6 cases (as of August 20), the rate in Leicester is higher at 423.1 cases. But infections in Leicester are particularly high amongst teenagers with rates for 15- to 19-year-olds increasing from 339 on July 1 to 641 cases per 100,000 population by August 20. As if that wasn’t bad enough rates remain high amongst teaching age adults with infection rates among 35- to 39-year-olds with cases increasing from 226 on July 1 to 604 cases per 100,000 population by August 20.

It is also significant that large swathes of people in Leicester (as elsewhere) have yet to have two vaccination jabs. Leicester City Council note on their web site that the percentage of (all) people who have been double-jabbed across England is 54% while in Leicester it is just 45%. https://data.leicester.gov.uk/explore/embed/dataset/covid-19-vaccinations-2nd-dose-by-age-band-for-leicester-and-england/altchart/

This is not to say that schools shouldn’t open. But we should note that the government has failed to provide any safety-driven evidence to education workers, parents, and their unions to support the reasoning behind their termination of safe working practices in our schools. At the very least one might expect Labour run Councils to challenge the government by proactively encouraging students and staff to wear face coverings.

For details of the funding of carbon dioxide monitors, see https://neu.org.uk/press-releases/co2-monitors

For details of unions requesting that the Secretary of State provide the scientific evidence they are relying upon to support their current education covid policies, see https://www.unison.org.uk/content/uploads/2021/08/UNISON-letter-to-Secretary-of-State-18-August-2021.pdf

The area in Leicester with the highest rate of infections is Braunstone West which currently has 827.7 cases per 100,000 population (as of August 20). https://data.leicester.gov.uk/explore/embed/dataset/covid-19-weekly-positive-cases-by-local-area-msoa/altmap/?disjunctive.msoa_local_name

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