Publication - Minutes

Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues minutes: 9 March 2021

Published: 29 Mar 2021
Date of meeting: 9 Mar 2021

Minutes from the twenty third meeting of the COVID-19 Advisory Group held on 9 March 2021.

Published:
29 Mar 2021
Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues minutes: 9 March 2021

Attendees and apologies

Advisory Group Members

  • Prof Carol Tannahill (Chair)
  • Prof Sheila Rowan 
  • Prof Chris Chapman
  • Prof Brigid Daniel
  • Prof Devi Sridhar
  • Prof Ian Rivers
  • Prof Marion Bain
  • Prof Paul Flowers
  • Dr Eileen Scott
  • Gaenor Hardy
  • Gayle Gorman
  • Iona Colvin
  • Dona Milne

Apologies

  • Prof Aline-Wendy Dunlop

Public Health Scotland

  • Dr Diane Stockton

Items and actions

Welcome

1. The meeting was chaired by Carol Tannahill. The Chair welcomed members to the meeting.     

Minute of meeting on 23 February

2. The minute was confirmed as an accurate record of the meeting, subject to a minor amendment.

Review of evidence

3. The sub-group considered the latest evidence on transmission and children, and the latest data on the state of the epidemic.  The published evidence base in relation to the transmission of the B.1.1.7 variant, and other variants of concern, remains limited.    

4. The data demonstrates a decrease in daily infections in the population as a whole, with the number of confirmed daily cases falling again after a period of plateau.  COVID-19 NHS admissions and occupancy of ICU beds also continue to fall, and registered COVID related deaths have decreased by 22% in the week to 28 February. The R number remains between 0.7 and 0.9 in Scotland, and the uptake of vaccinations remains high.  The number of children tested in the week to 28 February was higher than in the previous week, but test positivity decreased overall for 2-17 year olds. 

5. Attendance in school of eligible pupils is high at 95%, although there has been an increase in COVID related absences. Although there have been relatively few outbreaks reported in ELC and school settings, where outbreaks  have occurred, they appear more likely than previously to involve a higher number of pupils and/or staff. This also appears to be the pattern observed in other countries.

6. In discussion, the following points were made:

  • It is too soon to say anything about the impact that the phase 1 return on 22 February has had on case numbers.  However, to date there is no evidence of an uptick in incidence rates caused by the return.
  • There is still a lack of information about the impact of the new variant on children and young people, and about the occurrence and consequences of long COVID among children and young people.
  • The attendance data is encouraging, and does not support the suggestion that lots of schools are closed due to outbreaks of COVID.
  • It would be helpful to look more closely at the attendance data to see whether it can provide any insight into the transmissibility of the new variant.
  • Overall, the existing data and evidence is consistent with the sub-group’s principles for proceeding with the proposed phase 2 return to in-person learning and the resumption of school age childcare.
  • There appears to be a changing pattern in terms of transmission and risk in children and young people in relation to the new variant, which is not yet fully understood.
  • The likelihood of cases within schools is clearly correlated with local community prevalence, and this reinforces the need to ensure and sustain low levels of community transmission.
  • It is essential that there is confidence in the mitigations being applied in settings, rapid isolation of cases and suspected cases, and full use of the Test and Protect system.
  • It may also be worth examining the pros and cons of whole school testing in the event of cases of COVID-19 (learning from the experience in care home settings) and whether more could be done to support head teachers and school management teams, including with contact tracing, when outbreaks  occur in their establishments.
  • There is a need to consider the issue of vaccinations in more detail, particularly around the numbers of school and ELC staff who are in the priority groups who should be vaccinated by mid-April, and whether there were any options for prioritising the remaining cohort.

7. Action– the data and surveillance group to look more closely at all of the relevant data on absences in P1-P3 since the phase 1 return, numbers of school and ELC staff who might be vaccinated at each stage of the phased return, and any other relevant data, and report back to the sub-group.

8. Action – the issue of whole school testing to be considered and brought back to a later meeting of the sub-group,

Physical distancing

9.The sub-group discussed the role of physical distancing as a measure to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. The ability to maintain 2 metre distancing in secondary schools is a key issue in determining whether there can be a full return to school after Easter. 

10. If 2 metre distancing is not practical in schools, then it will be critical that additional mitigations are considered following a Hierarchy of Controls.  There has been some discussion of the viability of CO2 monitors as a proxy measure for  identifying areas of poor ventilation, and the sub-group expressed an interest in learning more about that possibility.

11. Action – A thorough examination of the evidence around physical distancing and other mitigations, including ventilation, to be on the agenda for the next meeting of the sub-group.

Home educators

12. The sub-group considered whether the phased return to in-person learning in schools meant that there should be any change to the guidance to enable home educated children to meet indoors.  Members were concerned about the wellbeing of home educated children and felt that it was important for them to get social interaction.  However, given the need to reduce household mixing indoors as far as possible,  home educators should continue to make use of outdoor opportunities and digital platforms for the purposes of group learning.   The First Minister’s announcement on 9 March allows for more outdoor contact for young people, which should be helpful for home educators. Moving to indoor meeting would have to be in line with changes to the relaxation in restrictions in wider society. 

Date of Next Meeting

13. The next meeting will be held on 23 March.