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Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) guidance update as of 24.2.20
24th February 2020

This advice is issued by BSA in conjunction with our partners AEGIS and BAISIS and should be read in conjunction with the previous update on February 17. BSA reminds all schools that it is not a medical or legal authority and that this advice must be read in that context.

Specific advice for schools was updated on February 18, by Public Health England (PHE), clarifying that schools where a staff member or pupil is suspected of having the virus do not need to close. PHE maintains there should be no restrictions while laboratory tests for Covid-19 are being carried out, and that there is no need to send other children or staff home. They also clarified that “until the outcome of test results is known, there is no action that staff members need to take”.

The advice does not depart from PHE’s original position, but clarifies it, partly for the benefit of staff members who are asked by parents what they should do if a suspected case arises. As with most advice for the school sector, the guidance makes limited comment on the particular situation in boarding schools, though there is a specific comment in part 7, relating to isolating contacts of a confirmed case.

The guidance can be found here. Guidance has been issued by other health protection bodies:

The government has also released the following which may be of interest to members: Coronavirus immigration guidance if you're unable to return to China from the UK.

Since our last update, half-term has concluded for most schools. The geographical spread of the virus has also changed, but our advice continues to concentrate on the following four areas:

1. Ongoing management of visitors to and from any affected areas 

The term ‘affected area’ has been widely employed by different organisations with different definitions. BSA considers an ‘affected area’ to be ‘any country in which there is a current threat and for which specific measures have been put in place by Public Health England or equivalent health bodies in other areas'. Since our last update, there are specific areas of concern now in Japan, South Korea, Iran and most recently Italy. 

Our advice has always been, and remains, that schools must assess the risk based on the travel profile of the individuals concerned. Although cases of the virus have been concentrated in parts of Asia, BSA acknowledges that wide-ranging regional descriptors may be open to interpretation. The picture varies considerably from country to country, is constantly evolving, and school procedures should reflect this. There should also be no restrictions on people who are clearly beyond the incubation period, which is currently 14 days. Advice from Public Health bodies remains that self-isolation is only essential for those travelling from Hubei Province, and for those from China and a number of other named countries if they display any symptoms, however mild. Given the spread of the virus and the pupil profile of international boarding schools, BSA has advised that schools should require self-isolation for those coming from all parts of China.

We understand that parents and other visitors have largely been supportive of this, even when it has inconvenienced them. BSA believes it might become necessary to extend these measures, and we note that some schools have already chosen to do so. If this is the case, schools must continue to be transparent about their policy, must ensure it is in line with the legal advice prepared for ISBA, which is available on their website (login required) and must communicate appropriately with each affected party, taking full account of the potential impact of any decisions taken.

2. Planning for a case of COVID-19 in school

Boarding schools do not have the luxury of shutting their doors in the same way that day schools do. BSA reminds all schools that it is not a medical authority and that this advice must be read in that context.

  • Reinforce with all staff and pupils the essentials of basic hygiene and hand-washing. Detailed advice is available here from the WHO or from PHE.
  • It is wise now to consider which areas of the boarding provision could best be used to help isolate pupils and contain any outbreak if this became necessary.  Many schools will have already done this as part of epidemic and pandemic contingency planning.
  • Consider in contingency planning any particular vulnerabilities within the pupil and staff population, including those with existing health issues or compromised immunity.
  • Prepare draft communications so that any response in the event of a confirmed or suspected case can be as timely as possible. 
  • IF A CASE IS REPORTED OR SUSPECTED, IMMEDIATELY CONTACT PUBLIC HEALTH ENGLAND/ WALES, HEALTH PROTECTION SCOTLAND OR YOUR EQUIVALENT LOCAL SERVICE FOR ADVICE AND FOR ONGOING MANAGEMENT. THIS SHOULD BE BY TELEPHONE (NHS 111 OR EQUIVALENT) AND NOT BY TAKING TO A SURGERY OR A&E DEPARTMENT.
  • A case of COVID-19 will be distressing for any school, however limited the exposure. Clear, calm and transparent leadership of the relevant issues will help to reassure pupils, staff, parents and the wider community.

3. Forward planning for Easter

We continue to hope that travel at Easter will be unrestricted, but schools must continue to plan for the safe accommodation of their overseas-based pupils over the Easter holiday. This will doubtless include a combination of guardians, relatives and in-school provision. Schools have asked about the legal implications of hosting boarders over the Easter break, and a full briefing sheet is available on the BSA website, which states the legal position in England, Wales and Scotland. Schools from other areas are asked to contact local education departments for advice.

All schools are encouraged to inform any appropriate authorities at an early stage, even if plans are subsequently changed or no longer necessary. BSA, AEGIS, BAISIS and other associations will continue to publicise opportunities for joint working, which will be of particular help for smaller schools. Schools accommodating pupils beyond their normal operating procedures must ensure the welfare of staff is also properly considered, and that there is an appropriate programme of activity for the boarders.

There is no way of knowing the geographical spread of disruption, if any, by the end of April, and contingency planning should reflect this. While the threat from this virus is new, schools have a great deal of experience of dealing with similar disruptions, including SARS, Swine Flu, seasonal flu, norovirus and the travel chaos caused by the Icelandic volcano. Although each situation is unique, lessons learned from those situations can be reasonably used as part of any forward-planning now.

4. Ongoing support for pupils, colleagues and their families

Schools are well aware of the sacrifices some families are making to comply with school and public health requirements, and schools should continue to ensure they are fully supported, and that information is updated when necessary and properly communicated. The focus will rightly be on those children who live overseas, but consideration must also be given to UK-based pupils and staff who are worried about friends and family.

BSA, with AEGIS and BAISIS, will continue to update this advice every Monday for as long as it is necessary and will provide any urgent updates as soon as possible.

Schools should continue to insist on good infection control habits, as would always be the case, particularly during the winter flu season.

If you would like further advice from the BSA nursing advisors, please email bsa@boarding.org.uk.

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