27th February 2021 saw the release of Parents United UK’s new #FreshAirSchools video, in order to promote the #FreshAirSchools Open Letter to UK Education Ministry Heads.
The video is a collaboration between members of our Facebook support group. The words spoken our group of volunteers are largely a collection of hashtags and phrases used on social media to promote awareness of airborne transmission and school safety –
Speaking at the launch, Parents United UK’s Head of Support, Cat Wilson, and Campaign Co-Founder, Gemma Sewell, jointly delivered the following statement on behalf of the campaign.
If you have been following our campaign, or have signed our Open Letter, you will be aware of our concerns around school safety during the pandemic, and in particular around airborne transmission of Covid-19 and the lack of mitigation for it within educational settings.
While the World Health Organisation has long advised us to avoid the 3 C’s in order to prevent transmission of SARs-Cov-19 – namely crowded spaces, close-contact settings and confined and enclosed spaces with poor ventilation – our children and school workers are being forced to spend prolonged periods in exactly these conditions.
UK schools have some of the smallest classrooms in the world, and the largest number of people in them. While adults in the workplace have by law a minimum of 11 cubic meters of space each, many UK classrooms provide less than 2 cubic meters of space for each child and school worker.
In addition to making social distancing impossible, this overcrowding poses a particular risk when combined with barely opening windows which exist in many classrooms – and indeed some classrooms have no windows at all. Without proper ventilation, small respiratory particles called aerosols – which are expelled when people speak, shout, sing and even breathe – build up in the room like smoke. Where a child or teacher is infected everyone in that classroom – not just the close contacts – is also at risk.
These are the perfect conditions for Covid-19 spread like wildfire throughout our school communities, particularly in primary schools where it is only the teaching staff who will masks. No attempt has been made in England to reduce class sizes in either primary or secondary schools through the use of rotas or the provision of extra spaces and staff.
We are pleased to see that the Scottish government have recently promised funding for schools to improve ventilation – it is shocking that no such offer has been made by governments elsewhere in the UK.
Combined with higher infection rates than were seen before the September return of schools, and the emergence of more transmissible variants of Covid-19, Parents United – along with a great number of epidemologists, aerosol scientists and school stakeholders – are deeply concerned that the full return of all pupils in all years in England from March 8th is a catastrophic mistake.
The previous full opening of schools between September to December was fraught with significant disruption and anxiety for many families, whose schools suffered a run of cases. For pupils in high infection rate areas, attending school was often a source of fear and chaos, rather than the stable and reassuring influence it should be.
Over half a million children in England have tested positive for Covid-19, and approximately the same number will have carried the disease asymptomatically. According to the Office of National Statistics 12-15% of them may be experiencing Long Covid – in some instances Long Covid results in profound disability, organ damage and significant neurological symptoms. We therefore believe that a Big Bang reopening of schools poses a significant threat to the lifelong health and wellbeing of all our children.
And all of this is in the context that the UK government have once again introduced mandatory attendance, even for children who have familiy members who are clinically vulnerable, and particularly at risk should that child bring the virus home.
Parents United has formulated an Open Letter to all UK Education Ministry Heads to address these concerns, placing particular emphasis on the need to increase mitigation measures where transmission rates are high, as suggested by both Independent SAGE and the Centre For Disease Control. Norway have successfully operated a traffic light system in school along these lines since May very successfully.
A Sensible, Safe and Sustainable plan for education is all the more important now that we have a vaccine in play. If we see another spike in cases, that will mean even more variants of Covid-19. The vaccine we have is designed for the original variant. The more variants there are, the less effective the vaccine will likely be, and it is entirely possible – and even likely – that it will not work on a particular variant, and that all those people who have been vaccinated and will be going about their daily lives believing that they are protected, won’t be.
But we know it doesn’t have to be this way – other countries are successfully providing optional home learning, and running rota systems to reduce class sizes. Please share the Fresh Air Schools video, and our Open Letter associated with it. By doing so you will be helping us to to increase public awareness of the risk that airborne transmission poses in our schools, and you will be supporting our call for government to fund mitigation measures against it.