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Coronavirus: what you need to know
Official guidance says to take proportionate steps to minimise the chance of any infection spreading. Read this to be clear on what you should be doing, including if staff or children have returned from specified areas, and use our template letter to get parents on board too.
25 February 2020: The government has added more countries and areas to its list of places that have implications for returning travellers.
See the third section of this article (headed 'Pupils or staff who've just come back from abroad') for more information. We've also updated the template letter for parents.
We'll update this article further if there are any more changes to government guidance - if you're a member, click 'Save for later' (top-right) to get an email notification whenever we do.
This article is based on guidance from Public Health England and the DfE.
What to know about the virus
The incubation period for this strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) is between 2 to 14 days. That means if a person is well 14 days after contact with someone with a confirmed case, they haven't been infected.
What are the symptoms?
- Difficulty in breathing
The virus can cause more severe symptoms in those with weakened immune systems. However, there's no evidence that children are more affected than other age groups.
How does it spread?
The virus is most likely to spread when someone has close contact (i.e. within 2 metres or less) with an infected person.
When an infected person coughs or sneezes, they produce droplets that contain the virus. These droplets are likely to be the most important means of transmission, as:
- Droplets can be directly transferred into the mouths or noses of people who have close contact
- Someone may become infected by touching a surface or object (e.g. a door knob) that's been contaminated with the droplets and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes
There's currently no good evidence that people who don't have symptoms are infectious to others.
Preventing the spread
Steps to take
You're likely taking the steps below already, as they're the same general principles you use to prevent the spread of any respiratory virus.
But you might still want to talk to pupils and staff to make sure they:
- Wash their hands often, with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, particularly:
- Before leaving home
- On arrival at school
- After using the toilet
- After breaks and sporting activities
- Before preparing food
- Before eating any food, including snacks
- Before leaving school
- If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol
- Avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
- Cover their cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in a bin
- Avoid close contact with people who are unwell
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
- If they feel unwell, stay at home
- If they're worried about their symptoms or those of a child, call NHS 111 and don't go directly to their GP or other healthcare environments
If you'd like to cover hygiene in your lessons, e-Bug resources are recommended by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence.
To raise awareness, you may want to put up the advice poster from Public Health England, which you can find here.
Pupils or staff who've just come back from abroad
If they've been in a category 1 country or area in the past 14 days
- Wuhan city and Hubei province, China
- Daegu or Cheongdo, South Korea*
- Any Italian town under containment measures* (see the map here)
*Only if they've returned on or after 19 February 2020.
They should contact NHS 111 for advice, and:
- Self-isolate for 14 days after leaving the country or area (see the home isolation advice sheet)
- If they become unwell, call NHS 111 immediately for an assessment (or 999 if they require emergency medical attention)
If they've been in a category 2 country or area in the past 14 days
- China (other than Wuhan city or Hubei province)
- Hong Kong
- Italy: north* (see the map here)
- South Korea (other than Daegu or Cheongdo)
*Only if they've returned on or after 19 February 2020.
If they're well, they don't need to avoid contact with other people and can continue to attend school or work.
If they become unwell, they should:
- Stay indoors and avoid contact with other people (see the home isolation advice sheet)
- Call NHS 111 immediately for an assessment (or 999 if they require emergency medical attention)
If they've been anywhere else
There's no need to advise them to avoid normal activities or school, unless they've had contact with a confirmed case.
Anyone who has had close contact with a confirmed case should contact NHS 111 for further advice.
If they have family members who've been abroad
If they have family members who've travelled to a category 2 country or area and who are well, they don't need to:
- Take any precautions, or
- Make any changes to their own activities
What to tell parents
Get in touch with your local health protection team to see if they have any guidance they expect you to share.
If not, download our template letters for parents, which lets them know what steps they should be taking:
If you have a suspected case
If anyone has been in contact with a suspected case in your school, there are no restrictions or special control measures required while test results are pending.
You don't need to close your school or send pupils or staff home.
However, you must:
- Clean all surfaces that the suspected case has come into contact with, using disposable cloths and household detergents, including:
- All surfaces and objects which are visibly contaminated with body fluids
- All potentially contaminated high-contact areas such as toilets, door handles and telephones
- Keep waste from the suspected case, such as used tissues, in a double-wrapped and tied bin bag, which should be placed in a safe place and marked for storage (if the results are negative, this can then be put in the normal waste)
If the case is confirmed
Your local health protection team will contact you to:
- Discuss the case
- Identify people who have been in contact with the infected individual
- Advise on any actions and precautions that should be taken
- Undertake a risk assessment of your school (this will help decide whether to close your school, which won't be necessary in most cases)
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