Schools feel the strain after half term leads to more staff going into isolation

Barking and Dagenham schools are starting to “creek” under the pressure of rising COVID-19 cases and increasing numbers of staff self-isolating after half term, health chiefs have warned.

The latest figures show the borough has 80 teaching staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 and a further 170 currently self-isolating across 42 schools. There were 918 children self-isolating as of November 6.

Barking and Dagenham’s Director of Public Health, Matthew Cole, said they are expecting cases to continue to rise after Christmas.

“From half term we have seen a spike in cases from both children and adults in school and that was just one week,” he told the borough’s Health and Wellbeing Board on Tuesday.

“This weekend and Monday the phone didn’t stop. There are a couple of schools which are starting to creek.

“It doesn’t bode well in terms of Christmas. If one week of half term can generate a spike of cases heaven forbid what will happen over a two week holiday. Clearly we have to plan with schools about how we are going to deal with that.”

He added that the data suggested the virus was being spread in households rather than in schools themselves.

Earlier this month Barking and Dagenham became the first town hall in the capital to launch its own express COVID-19 testing centre amid fears the Government programme will not cope with a surge in cases over winter.

Key workers in the borough, including teachers, get priority for same day free testing and results.

Council leader Darren Rodwell said delays in people accessing tests and results were causing “significant” problems for schools because staff had to self-isolate.
The warning comes as the borough also recorded a slight increase in deaths related to COVID-19.

Four residents died with coronavirus in the week ending October 30 – all in hospital.

So far this year 16 per cent of all deaths in Barking and Dagenham – 183 people – have been related to the virus.

There are currently 174 people in hospital with COVID-19 across the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust.

However, just 16 are in critical care.

“That is very different to before,” Mr Cole added. “We are not seeing lots of people being ventilated.”

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Rachael Burford

Local Democracy Reporter