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Covid: What happens if someone in school tests positive?

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  • Coronavirus pandemic
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With Covid-19 cases rising around the UK, schools are adopting measures to reduce the spread and keep pupils safe.

In Northern Ireland, schools will close on Monday 19 October for two weeks, including the half-term holiday.

Many parents still have questions about how schools are operating during the pandemic.

What happens if someone tests positive for coronavirus?

If someone tests positive, they must be sent home to self-isolate for 14 days.

The school must then contact their local public health protection team, who will advise on who else should be sent home.

Anyone who has been in close contact with the person testing positive, will be advised to self-isolate for 14 days from their last date of contact.

Close contact means:

  • face-to-face contact for any length of time, within 1m (3ft), including being coughed on, a face-to-face conversation, or unprotected physical contact (skin-to-skin)
  • extended close contact (within 2m for more than 15 minutes) with an infected individual
  • travelling in a small vehicle with an infected person

Could the whole school be closed?

Before term began, the government said closing an entire school would not generally be necessary.

According to the most recent figures, 21% of secondary schools in England are not fully open, and about 7% of primary schools have had to send students home.

Only 0.2% of schools have had to close completely.

If pupils can't come in, schools are expected to have a home-working plan available.

In an attempt to curb rising coronavirus cases, Northern Ireland will close schools until 2 November. It will also shut most hospitality venues for four weeks.

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What if my child has a cough or cold?

The NHS says the main Covid-19 symptoms are:

  • a high temperature
  • a new, continuous cough
  • the loss of, or change to, your sense of taste or smell

If a child shows these symptoms, they - and other members of their household - should self-isolate for 14 days and get tested if possible.

A runny nose is more likely to be a symptom of a cold, and is not a reason to get tested for coronavirus, says NHS Scotland.

Help from the NHS:

Can my child get tested at school?

All schools in England have been provided with a small number of testing kits, to be offered to a pupil or staff member in the "exceptional circumstance" they cannot get tested any other way.

The government says the test kits should be given to an adult or else a child's parent or carer, who should carry out the test off-site (unless it is a boarding school).

Testing kits have also been provided to schools and colleges in Wales and Northern Ireland, but Scotland has not followed suit.

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Will next year's exams happen?

In England, next summer's A-levels and GCSEs will go ahead - but with reduced content for some subjects and a start date pushed back by three weeks. Most exams will now start from 7 June, rather than mid-May.

Scottish Education Secretary John Swinney has said that National 5 exams, roughly equivalent to GCSEs in England, will not go ahead in 2021. They will be replaced by teacher assessments and coursework.

Higher and Advanced Higher exams will go ahead as usual, but "slightly later" in the year. He confirmed there is a contingency plan should they also need to be called off.

In Northern Ireland, A-level, AS and GCSE exams will start one week later in 2021, but will still finish by 30 June.

In Wales, the current plan is also to go ahead with exams - again most likely with a delay and with reductions in the course content.

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What precautions are schools taking?

Measures being taken include hand sanitiser stations, one-way systems and staggered break times.

Enhanced cleaning procedures have been introduced, and social distancing wherever possible.

How will children mix at school?

In England, younger children are being encouraged to mix in small groups or "bubbles" to balance out the fact they are unlikely to stay 2m apart.

In Wales and Scotland, pupils are exempt from the 2m distancing rule "because it is harder for children to understand the concept of physical distancing".

Older children, such as those in secondary schools, are being encouraged to avoid touching one another as much as possible.

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Will children have to wear face coverings at school?

If they live in a local restrictions area, pupils in England in Year 7 and above will have to wear face coverings indoors, when not in class.

Additionally, secondary school head teachers have the power to introduce masks.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, secondary pupils must wear face coverings between lessons.

In Wales,

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What about schools in local restriction areas?

If coronavirus cases rise in an area of England, schools will use a four-stage tier system of extra measures.

  • Tier 1: Schools fully open to all pupils, face coverings required in corridors and communal areas for staff and students Year 7 and above
  • Tier 2: A rota system to be used by secondary schools and colleges for most pupils; primary schools stay open
  • Tier 3 and 4: Remote learning for "wider groups of pupils"; vulnerable and key worker children continue to go to school

These measures will be applied as ''an absolute last resort", the government says. Areas where local restrictions are currently imposed are in tier 1.

What else has changed?

The school day may look different to previous years.

Schools are being asked to:

  • stagger start and finish times
  • avoid assemblies or collective worship with more than one group
  • avoid contact sport and unnecessary sharing of objects
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What about getting to school?

Walking or cycling is encouraged. Parents should not gather in groups at school gates, or go on site without an appointment.

In Leicestershire, parents have been asked to wear face coverings when picking up or dropping off children at school.

Dedicated school transport services have been asked to:

  • move children in "bubbles"
  • provide hand sanitiser
  • apply social distancing where possible
  • ask children over 11 to wear face coverings

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