More than 700 school children sent home as covid cases in Winterbourne area rise
MORE than 700 pupils at the area's biggest school had to self-isolate as the new variant of COVID-19 spreads among the young.
All students in Years 9 and 10, at least 100 from years 7, 8 and 12, plus a small number of staff at Winterbourne Academy were told to stay at home at the end of June.
There have been 31 positive cases in the school since students returned after May half term.
It comes as South Gloucestershire's most senior health official warned that hospital admissions could start to increase as the virus spreads among the unvaccinated.
Dave Baker, the chief executive of the Olympus Academy Trust, which runs Winterbourne Academy, said: “There has been ongoing dialogue with the public health team and local authority and all action has been based on their guidance, including the re-introduction of face coverings in school last week. It has been very challenging.
"This is a pattern replicated in other schools and Trusts across the area.”
Pupils at home are attending lessons which are provided online via Microsoft Teams.
Year 10 students were due back on July 2, with Year 9 returning on July 5.
The school had closed the year groups as a precautionary measure in the hope of reducing the risk of the virus spreading.
Head teacher Jason Beardmore said: “Some parents subsequently contacted us about social gatherings which had taken place out of school, and we used this as part of our tracking process.
"We have an excellent rapport with our parents and they continue to be extremely supportive and communicative – I want to thank them for working with us on this.
“In conjunction with the South Glos case management team and after consulting with Olympus Academy Trust, we took the decision to close the bubbles promptly in order to minimise further transmission, maintain safe staff-student ratios and focus on a consistent model of lesson delivery.”
The school’s experience has been that pupils affected only have a mild illness, but Mr Beardmore describes transmission rates as ‘high locally’, and is encouraging parents to support children with home testing so that it’s possible for him to spot patterns and respond effectively.
COVID-19 case rates in the Winterbourne area rose by more than 540% in the week to June 24, rising from seven cases to 45.
In Frampton Cotterell over the same period, the number of confirmed cases rose from seven to 29, while in Charfield, Wickwar & Iron Acton cases rose from two to eight.
The Office for National Statistics' Pucklechurch & Westerleigh area, which includes Coalpit Heath, recorded 21 new cases, up from 16 a week earlier.
It comes after South Gloucestershire's most senior health official warned that hospital admissions could start to increase as the virus spreads among the unvaccinated.
Public health director Sara Blackmore told members of the council’s health and well-being board that most new cases are in younger people, aged 10-24.
Those affected are ‘largely unvaccinated’, and although there are ‘very few’ hospitalisations at present, she expects them to increase in the coming weeks.
She said: “We will see a lag in the data, so most likely – as we’ve started to see our rates increase in the last week – in the next couple of weeks, we may well see an increase in hospitalisations locally.
“Clearly that mirrors what’s happening nationally and is something for us to keep a close eye on.”
South Gloucestershire has revised its Local Outbreak Management Plan in response to the recent rise in covid cases, identified as the start of a third wave.
Ms Blackmore said the response was to address the increase in numbers rather than any “variants of concern”, in line with the national response.
Includes reporting by Amanda Cameron, Local Democracy Reporting Service