Schools Public Health update: 2020 Christmas break

Mobile testing units

A big thank you to all schools and colleges that have been involved in the planning and hosting of mobile testing units at selected secondary school and college sites this week. This testing is vital because a very large number of people do not show any symptoms when they contract the virus. This means they can unwittingly spread the virus to their friends and families – especially if they are spending time with them at Christmas.

We expect the two mobile testing centres will also be available from Saturday 19 December until Tuesday 22 December at:

  • Richmond Road Car Park, 3 Richmond Rd, Chingford, London E4 7BN
  • Church Lane Car Park, Leytonstone, London E11 4QN

Centres will be open from 9am until 3pm. You do not need to book. We encourage anyone working in or who attends schools to come to be tested, even without symptoms. There is more information here.

Staff testing over Christmas

Home testing kits are being distributed to schools for use by school staff and by taking it staff will help protect themselves, their families, students and work colleagues and the wider community against Covid-19.

School staff should take the test 2-5 working days before the start of term in January, and drop the test kit at a collection site on the same day, so the result can be processed and the individual informed via text message of the result before the start of term. Currently, Waltham Forest is planning to host collection sites for these kits on 30th-31st Dec, and 2nd Jan.

Updated information on the recommended timelines for taking the tests and the full details of the drop off points in North East London, will be made available here.

You should advise your staff that they are required to keep you updated on positive test results throughout the Christmas period through the schools normal reporting process.  This is so you can use this to inform your planning for school return.

At the start of January, the Council will send a short email / survey to ask you to provide information on the number of staff who have had a positive covid result over Christmas or who are self-isolating due to being a contact with a confirmed case, where this impacts on staffing for January.

Testing in January

The government has just announced that from the new year, rapid result coronavirus tests (also called Lateral Flow Tests or LFTs) will be made available to schools. At the beginning of January, tests will be provided for:

  • the secondary school and college workforce to undertake weekly routine testing to help to identify individuals who are carrying the virus but show no symptoms
  • school staff identified as close contacts of a confirmed case to undertake daily testing, for 7 days so that staff can continue coming into school and college as normal, rather than having to self-isolate, as before
  • children in years 11 – 13 and college equivalents who are identified as close contacts of a confirmed case to undertake daily testing, for 7 days, so that they can continue to receive face to face education, rather than having to self-isolate as before

A phased approach will be taken to the roll out, and it is planned that this will be rolled out to all secondary age pupils who are close contacts,  then the weekly testing to primary school workforce, and then testing to primary age pupils who are close contacts after half term.

For every group, testing is voluntary, but close contacts who decide not to be tested daily will need to self-isolate in line with the Stay at home: guidance for households with possible or confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.

Information, guidance and training will be available for schools and more information on this will be shared shortly.

Update on isolation periods

Close contacts of someone with Covid-19 are now required to isolate for 10 days (not 14 as previously). Please note the isolation period is for a full 10 days starting the day after you were last in contact with the person with Covid-19. This means that, for example, your last contact with them was at any time on the 15th of the month your isolation period ends at 23:59 hrs on the 25th.

For individuals with Covid-19, the isolation period remains 10 days, but this also starts the day after Covid-19 symptoms begin or a positive test result is received (if have no symptoms).

On Monday 14 December, the change to the isolation period for contacts will apply to all those who are currently self-isolating including those who commenced self-isolation before Monday.

The updated guidance can be found here. The change in guidance follows a review of the evidence by the Chief Medical Officer who states he is now confident we can reduce the number of days that individuals self isolate and that by continuing to isolate where appropriate, we can save lives.

Contact tracing over Christmas

The Department for Education announced that schools should remain contactable for contact tracing for 6 days following the end of the school term. It was previously advised that schools would use the Friday 18th December as an Inset day, therefore making, Thursday 17th December the last day of term for most. This would mean that schools should remain contactable for contact tracing up until the end of Wednesday 23rd December.

We are advising that all schools, irrespective of when the majority of children are now last on the school site, should remain contactable for contact tracing until the end of Wednesday 23rd December.

We recommend that you inform parents to ensure that they continue to notify the school of confirmed cases of coronavirus until Wednesday 23rd December, if the child has been in school in the 48 hours prior to start of symptoms or 48 hours prior to the test, if they have had no symptoms.

Where a pupil or staff member tests positive for the coronavirus during the Christmas holidays, having developed symptoms more than 48 hours since being in school, the school should not be contacted and the local public health team does not need to be notified.

Please ensure that there is a clear line of communication and that staff and parents know who / how to notify the school of a positive test result once the school office has closed for Christmas.

Where pupils or staff are required to self-isolate due to contact with a positive case after the first six days following the end of term, schools do not need to be informed about their absence until the first day of the new term and you do not need to contact Department for Education for advice or to notify public.health@walthamforest.gov.uk

When schools return at the start of January, we ask that you resume the local notification processes, which involves emailing public.health@walthamforest.gov.uk to notify of all cases using the following notification form.

Travel over the Christmas period

Staff and children who travel to countries not on the travel corridor list over the Christmas period will be required to self-isolate for a period of 10 days on their return. We advise that staff are reminded of the requirement that they advise you of their travel and the need to self-isolate.  Schools should seek advice from their HR provider on how such absence is managed. From 15 December 2020, passengers arriving into England from countries not featured on the government’s travel corridor list will have the option to take a test after 5 days of self-isolation, with a negative result releasing them from the need to isolate.

For more information visit here.

Tier 3 restrictions and Christmas

Covid-19 cases are high in Waltham Forest, and we need all those in the school community to keep safe this Christmas.

In response to rising numbers of cases, as of midnight on Wednesday 16th December, London and parts of the South East will enter into tier 3 restrictions. To read the full restrictions for Tier 3, please visit the government website

As you will be aware, from 23rd to 27th December, households may choose to form a Christmas bubble, consisting of three households. In all other settings during 23rd – 27th December, tier 3 restrictions will apply in Waltham Forest.

It is important that those who create a Christmas bubble (up to three households) from the 23-27 make sure they understand the risks attached with mixing indoors. If you need to meet as a Christmas bubble you must take these measures to prevent the spread of the virus:

  • wash your hands frequently
  • clean touch points regularly, such as door handles and surfaces
  • make sure you let as much fresh air in as you can during a visit and after visitors have left, without getting cold, by opening windows and door
  • if you can instead, meet up outdoors with friends and family around Christmas
  • most importantly, keep socially distanced from anybody you do not live with from now until Christmas. If possible, avoid meeting anyone at all socially until you meet your Christmas bubble

Remember, just because the government is allowing households to meet up at Christmas, does not mean it is safe to do so. Please choose carefully what decision is right for your family.

The Waltham Forest Public Health team is here to support you and if you have any questions, please email public.health@walthamforest.gov.uk

We are incredibly grateful for the ongoing efforts of staff and the wider school community. We hope you can all have a very well deserved and restful Christmas break.