With the youngest children due to start returning to schools in Wales from Monday local education authorities and the Welsh Government will be keeping a close eye on the impact on cornavirus case figures before bringing older pupils back.
But data around Covid-10 cases in schools doesn’t fully explain where infections took place, adding to the uncertainty.
Hundreds of coronavirus cases among staff and children have been reported by schools across Wales in the last three weeks while fewer than one in 10 pupils have been attending with schools only open to vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.
Most of these recent cases were reported in primary school.
Between 16 and 17 cases of Covid a day were reported in the three weeks to February 10 totalling 351 cases overall, a Public Health Wales (PHW) spokesman confirmed. However they said the cases reported did not mean infections occurred in those settings.
“There may be occasions where school-aged cases are identified but they may not have entered the school during their infectious period,” the spokesman said.
There are 1,573 schools in Wales. Latest Welsh Government figures show an average of 9% of pupils were present in school over the week of February 1 to February 5.
Schools and colleges were shut again to most pupils at the start of term in January but some key workers’ and vulnerable children could attend some of the time and some staff went in to manage this. That will continue after half term while Foundation Phase children are brought back first.
Councils have announced children aged three to seven can come back into classrooms next week after the half term break in line with Welsh Government guidance which says they can return from February 22.
No date has been given for older learners to return although some college students on practical courses can go back some of the time after half term.
Education minister Kirsty Williams has insisted schools are safe but warned if Covid is in the community there is a risk it will get into schools.
Councils have urged parents and carers not to gather at school gates and the minister has warned a return to school for the youngest pupils mustn’t mean they socialise outside school.
Criteria for being included as a schools coronavirus case are as follows:
· Exposure location is at a school or college postcode and the first line of address is a school.
· First line of exposure location address has a school-related word.
· Key worker category is “education and childcare”.
Any case aged three to 19 is assumed to be attending a school or nursery.
· Location of employment is at a school or college postcode and the first line of address is a school.
Age is three to 19 and the individual’s school can be identified via exposure location or location of employment.
PHW said its schools Covid data is subject to a number of caveats.
“The presence of cases linked to a school or educational institution does not necessarily imply that transmission occurred in that setting. Local intelligence is required to determine whether transmission is likely to have occurred within such institutions,” a PHW spokesman said.
“It is difficult to distinguish staff cases via the track and trace system therefore staff cases are classified as those older than 19 and not associated with the school such as a family member or doing the school run.
“There may be occasions where school-aged cases are identified but they may not have entered the school during their infectious period.
“There may be a lag in data due to time taken between sample collection date and the return of a positive result.
“There may also be a lag in the time between the positive result and follow-up by contact tracers and entry of exposure data into the track and trace system.”
With all those caveats in place what does the latest data tell us?
In the week to February 10 there were 54 school cases of coronavirus reported in primaries in Wales, 23 in secondaries, and 10 in other settings (which includes special schools, maintained middle schools, maintained nurseries, pupil referral units, and independent schools).
In the week prior to that 70 cases were reported in primaries, 19 in secondaries, and nine in other settings while the preceding week saw 106 cases in primaries, 42 in secondaries, and 18 in other locations.
In the three-week period in total therefore there were 351 cases with 230 in primaries, 84 in secondaries, and 37 in other settings.
How many Covid cases have there been in schools in Wales since they re-opened in September?
From September 1 last year to February this year there were 8,811 reports of Covid-19 cases across 1,214 schools with 4,046 cases in staff and 4,765 in pupils.
From a total of 1,573 schools across Wales that means 77.2 % of schools have recorded a Covid-19 case. In total there are 213 schools which have had only one case.
Almost every secondary school has reported at least one case. Only Denbighshire and Gwynedd have reported some secondaries which have not had a single case of the virus.
Responding to the latest data the Welsh Government said: “We continue to monitor and plan for the return of more learners in line with the public health checklist set out by TAG, such as low case rate numbers and the R rate being below one.
“These indicators continue to head in the right direction thanks to the efforts of everyone to keep Wales safe.
“As with all decisions on pupils attending schools we continue to work closely with local authorities before and after any changes giving notice to learners, parents, and staff as we have done ahead of next week.