Covid: Harrogate schools urged to bring back masks after sharp rise in cases linked to young people
Schools in Harrogate are being encouraged to reintroduce face masks and postpone some activities after the district's sharp rise in Covid cases was linked to young people.
The district has the 11th highest infection rate in the UK, with cases rising most sharply among five to 19-year-olds.
Public health officials called an urgent press briefing today and revealed every headteacher in Harrogate had been contacted with the offer of extra support and advice.
Amanda Newbold, assistant director of education and skills at North Yorkshire County Council, said: "We are working to minimise the disruption to education by recommending that face coverings are worn in certain settings and on school transport.
"We have asked schools to consider the risk of mixing and for some out of school activities to be postponed until case rates are reduced.
"We would also ask that everybody at schools continue to conduct twice-weekly lateral flow testing and report their results."
Neil Renton, headteacher at Harrogate Grammar School, also said extra measures including no mixing of students at break times and moving parents evening online had been introduced.
He said of the school's 2,100 students, attendance levels had fallen from 96% to 92% largely due to Covid.
Mr Renton said: "Young people have been really pleased to be back at school - it has been very positive.
"However, we are seeing more cases at this point than we saw last year.
"Cases are higher, but the distribution to learning I would argue is lower because of the different rules about isolation.
"We have some staff who have been absent due to Covid, but not at a level to significantly disrupt provision."
At the start of term, all schools were advised by the government that face coverings were no longer routinely needed for staff or pupils, although they were still recommended in crowded spaces such as on school buses.
But the Department for Education also said schools could temporarily reintroduce bubble groups and face masks in communal spaces in areas with higher Covid rates.
Harrogate's weekly infection rate has been rising steadily since mid-September and currently stands at a record level of 733 cases per 100,000 people.
That equates to an average of 168 new infections every day.
A total of 45 schools, colleges and early years settings in the district are currently dealing with at least one confirmed Covid case.
Despite the rise in infections, deaths and hospitalisations remain lower than previous waves with 15 Covid-positive patients at Harrogate District Hospital on Monday.
It was also announced at today's briefing that the Great Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate will reopen as a vaccination centre later this year to support the booster programme.
Louise Wallace, director of public health for North Yorkshire, has urged people to take up vaccines which are now available for 12 to 15-year-olds, as she also said everyone had a part to play in reducing the high infection rate.
She said: "The rate in Harrogate is higher than any of us would like it to be. No one at any age wants to catch Covid so I want to reiterate some key messages.
"Washing your hands will not only help to protect you from Covid, but also from other unpleasant things you do not want to catch this winter.
"Letting fresh air in is also hugely beneficial.
"The other big thing we can all do that makes a difference is to pop on a face covering. This is particularly important in enclosed and busy indoor areas, and on all forms of public transport.
"If you have symptoms, please isolate and book a test. It is still really important.
"And please come forward and get a vaccination. It is the best form of defence."
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter