Publication - Minutes

Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues minutes: 29 June 2021

Published: 26 Jul 2021
Date of meeting: 29 Jun 2021
Date of next meeting: 13 Jul 2021

Minutes from the thirty-first meeting of the COVID-19 Advisory Group held on 29 June 2021.

Published:
26 Jul 2021
Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues minutes: 29 June 2021

Attendees and apologies

Advisory Group members:

  • Gayle Gorman (Chair for this meeting)
  • Prof Marion Bain
  • Dr Eileen Scott
  • Gaenor Hardy
  • Dona Milne
  • Prof Paul Flowers
  • Prof Devi Sridhar
  • Prof Julie Fitzpatrick
  • Prof Brigid Daniel
  • Catherine Agnew

Apologies:

  • Prof Carol Tannahill (Chair)
  • Prof Chris Chapman
  • Iona Colvin
  • Prof Ian Rivers

Public Health Scotland:

  • Diane Stockton
  • Mary Stewart
  • James Wilson
  • Colin Sumpter

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde:

  • Beatrix Von Wissman

Glasgow City Council:

  • Maureen McKenna

SG (observing):

  • Liz Levy
  • Marianne Emler
  • Audrey MacDougall
  • Andrew Drought
  • Amy Harron
  • Simon Mair

Secretariat:

  • Sam Anson
  • Judith Tracey
  • Judith Clark
     

Items and actions

Welcome

The meeting was chaired by Gayle Gorman. The Chair welcomed members to the meeting and provided a brief update on actions from the previous meeting.

The Chair welcomed Catherine Agnew, Care Inspectorate Chief Inspector for Children, to her first meeting as a sub-group member.

Minute of meeting on 15 June

The minute was confirmed as an accurate record of the meeting.

Review of evidence

The sub-group considered the latest data on the state of the epidemic. The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 had increased in the week to 23 June, with R between 1.1 and 1.3. Cases per 100,000 increased in all age categories in the week to 23 June, with the sharpest rise in cases per 100,000 for under 21s being in the 18-21 age group. 50% of 18-29 year olds and 77% of 30-39 year olds had now received their first dose of the vaccine. All 18-29 year olds were expected to have been offered their second dose by mid-September.

The number of patients in hospital and admissions to ICU had increased over the last week, and there were 13 registered COVID related deaths in the week to 20 June, with the Delta variant remaining the dominant strain in Scotland. The overall number of cases and test positivity across all child age groups increased. Relatively high pupil case rates were seen in Renfrewshire, Dundee City, East Renfrewshire, Glasgow City and East Ayrshire. 

Mitigations in schools post-summer

The sub-group discussed which mitigations should remain in place in schools after the summer holidays. The sub-group agreed that ventilation and hand hygiene should remain, given their impact and that they are easy to maintain. It was suggested that physical distancing could also remain between adults and pupils in schools. There was general agreement that face coverings should be removed in classrooms when possible, perhaps once all school staff have received their second dose of the vaccine, but that face coverings should remain in use in communal areas. The sub-group also suggested that it would be helpful to remove the use of bubbles if possible. 

Sub-group members noted the importance of aligning with the COVID regulations and guidance for the wider community as far as possible. Where this is not appropriate, clear justifications will be needed to promote compliance. Consideration of how any different approach to restrictions in education settings aligns with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child will also be necessary.

The sub-group members expressed interest in the forthcoming advice from the JCVI regarding future plans for vaccination, which may help to inform their advice on mitigations.

The following points were raised in discussion:

  • continuing to limit visitors to schools and ELC settings may also be helpful as a mitigation, however it is important to allow some visitors, e.g. for the HPV vaccination programme, which has been paused
  • continuing adult to adult physical distancing in ELC settings would have a detrimental impact on access to services, though this would not need to align with schools
  • there may be a need to reconsider guidance for expressive arts and PE in light of the changing circumstances
  • clear messaging around the rationale for mitigations which remain in place is essential to ensure compliance. This is particularly important where advice for schools deviates from restrictions in the wider community

Reducing the need for isolation in children and young people

The sub-group received an update from Colin Sumpter (PHS) on COVID related isolation, with a particular focus on isolation for CYP. Maureen McKenna (Glasgow City Council) and Beatrix von Wissman (Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board) also joined the discussion to provide a local view. 

It was suggested that though children are not at lower risk of infection, those who are more vulnerable to COVID are now more protected due to vaccination, and therefore threshold for isolation should be higher. There was broad agreement that a phased approach, which could be linked to age/setting groups, may be beneficial to manage risks and allow for careful monitoring. Public Health Scotland colleagues will be drafting updated guidance on isolation shortly.

It was also highlighted that COVID may have helped to influence a culture change, and it may be more likely that pupils and others who feel unwell will stay home, also reducing the spread of other infections. However, there are also learning and childcare implications which link to this, and continuing isolation requirements for adults may have staffing implications.

The following points were raised in discussion:

  • regardless of the approach taken, testing is likely to remain important. A ‘test and release’ approach may be helpful, should the evidence support this
  • any change should ideally take place before the beginning of next term
  • if identified contacts of a case are not required to isolate, it is important to encourage other behaviours (e.g. exercise caution around unvaccinated and vulnerable individuals)
  • there are disproportionate effects of isolation on disadvantaged and urban areas. In some cases isolation for children may also mean loss of work or income for parents/carers
  • messaging around long COVID needs to be balanced, particularly given that other childhood infections (RSV, measles, paraflu) are potentially more problematic, and children are currently not being exposed to these and other illnesses at the same levels as before

Testing

The sub-group received an update on the asymptomatic testing programme in schools and ELC settings. While local authority breakdowns show good uptake in some areas, testing uptake overall is still lower than hoped. It was highlighted that a belief in trying to make the community and school safer was the biggest reason for taking a test and recording the result.

Responses to a recent survey indicated that there is an ongoing issue with test results not being recorded by individuals, with some reporting that they didn’t record their result as they were not aware that negative/void results should still be reported. One of the main reasons reported for not taking tests was being unaware of the testing programme. Work is being done to encourage uptake for the return to school, including distributing testing kits and work with Young Scot.

The following points were raised in discussion:

  • testing is not as accurate when prevalence is low, though it is still important with contacts of a case
  • it is important to communicate the purpose of testing clearly, as well as when this should be done, in order to encourage uptake
  • routine asymptomatic testing may need to be reconsidered should there be changes to isolation policy

AOB

It was noted that given the need for advice for schools by the end of July, it is likely that sub-group meetings will continue throughout the summer holidays.

Date of next meeting

The next meeting will be held on 13 July.