21 coronavirus cases in Northumberland schools since start of term, figures reveal

There have been 21 Covid-19 cases across 18 Northumberland schools since the new academic year started a fortnight ago.

The figures were presented in an update to councillors.
The figures were presented in an update to councillors.

The figures were revealed as part of an update by public-health consultant Dr Jim Brown at the Thursday, September 17, meeting of Northumberland County Council’s family and children’s services committee.

He also referred to queries from headteachers about whether whole classes or bubbles should be self-isolating if one of the children has symptoms, but said that only 12% of those who have been tested so far have returned positive results.

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“I think that reinforces that if we were to close bubbles or isolate people on the basis of symptoms alone, that would have an extremely damaging impact on education and I hope you agree with that,” he added.

“We will need to be monitoring the situation really carefully and we are escalating up to Public Health England where we have more than one case and schools where there are numerous pupils or teachers with symptoms.”

Asked by Cllr Scott Dickinson about the difficulties in getting tests, amid reports of parents from the south of the county having to take children to Galashiels, Dr Brown said: “Testing is a huge challenge.”

New testing sites

He reported that two new testing sites in south-east Northumberland are being built over the weekend, but could not confirm the arrangements for using them.

“Whether they solve the issue remains to be seen,” he said. “We absolutely recognise the issues with people being sent to far-away parts of the country in the past couple of weeks.

“There’s absolutely unprecedented demand for tests and I understand they’ve said that if you go on and get told Galashiels, log off and try again a short time later and you may well get somewhere more local.”

He added: “We’re really going to push as much as possible for (the two new local testing sites) to be for Northumberland residents, but we are not in control of this, we only put in the ask.

“It is about us reiterating – and I would welcome all political support – that this is such an important issue and we really want as much of it as we can to be for Northumberland residents, because what we don’t want to see is building them and having people come from other areas long-distance to travel into Blyth and Ashington for those tests.

“But inevitably, we have to pull together on this, it’s a national emergency and we have to support the whole system.”

Cllr Russ Wallace highlighted the turnaround time for test results, reporting that headteachers he had spoken to had staff sitting at home waiting a week for results, unable to be in school and teach.

Dr Brown responded: “I’m afraid all we in Northumberland can do is escalate that back up and keep doing that, both us directly and potentially you as politicians.

“I’m not here to defend national government, but it is an unprecedented huge number of tests that they’re trying to achieve, they are bringing on additional laboratory sites.

“We’re not in a position to chase those individual tests I’m afraid.”

On the general picture, with the meeting taking place just before the Health Secretary announced the additional restrictions coming into force for Northumberland and six other North East councils, Dr Brown said: “The rate is increasing, less quickly than some other areas of Tyneside, but certainly increasing, with the majority in south-east Northumberland, although we are beginning to see them spread north and west.

“We are certainly at a crossroads. What’s really important is that we know for a fact we are only detecting a proportion of cases, that the average age is increasing, and with the testing difficulties, we also may be underestimating the number of cases.”

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