Rollout of daily testing of close contacts paused in English schools

Jan 20, 2021 by

The rollout of rapid daily coronavirus testing of close contacts in schools should be paused, Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace say.

They say more research is needed on how it would work given the new, more transmissible, coronavirus variant.

Routine testing to pick up asymptomatic cases in staff and pupils is still a key part of the government’s plans.

Schools in England tested all secondary key-worker children when they first went back this term.

Mass testing in schools, using pregnancy-style lateral flow tests to detect the virus, had been due to start in January.

However under new lockdown restrictions, schools have been forced to switch to providing online teaching until February – although children of key workers are still allowed to attend – and plans were postponed.

How testing of pupils will be organised once schools reopen is still not clear.

The original plan for rapid Covid testing in all secondary schools and colleges included:

  • seven days of daily tests for pupils who had been near a positive case
  • daily tests for teachers if they had a case in their class
  • routine weekly testing for teachers

The aim was to keep as many children in schools as possible by avoiding a whole bubble, class or year having to be sent home, and to reduce disruption from staff having to isolate.

But some scientists have consistently expressed concerns about the accuracy of the rapid tests, which do not need to be sent to a lab for the results.

They say the high number of false negatives means close contacts may wrongly think they are not infectious and go on to mix with more vulnerable people.

‘No change to main rollout’

And a statement by PHE and NHS Test and Trace suggested the new variant has also caused a rethink, saying it “increases the risk of transmission everywhere, including in school settings”.

The statement explains that “the balance between the risks (transmission of virus in schools and onward to households and the wider community) and benefits (education in a face-to-face and safe setting) for daily contact testing is unclear”.

But a government spokesman said they would continue to be used for routine testing.

“There is no change to the main rollout of regular testing using rapid lateral flow tests in schools and colleges which is already proving beneficial in finding teachers and students with coronavirus who do not have symptoms,” he said.

“NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England have reviewed their advice, and concluded that in light of the higher prevalence and rates of transmission of the new variant, further evaluation work is required to make sure it is achieving its aim of breaking chains of transmission and reducing cases of the virus in the community.”

Daily contact testing is being paused in “all but a small number of secondary schools and colleges” where it is still being evaluated.

Regular testing of staff will increase to twice weekly to help break chains of transmission, the Department for Education said.

Source: Rollout of daily testing of close contacts paused in English schools – BBC News

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