What Derbyshire Covid-19 data tells us ahead of potential school reopening

Monday, February 15th, 2021 5:10pm

By Eddie Bisknell, Local Democracy Reporter @EddieBisk

With a potential full school reopening next month, Derbyshire is still seeing more Covid-19 cases in a week than the county saw in the whole of September, when schools fully reopened after the first lockdown.

In September, Derbyshire saw 1,297 Covid-19 cases, causing an array of temporary school closures and whole year groups being sent home, notably in the Heanor area and in Derby.

In the most recent week alone, to February 12, the most recent accurate figures, Derbyshire recorded 1,849 new Covid-19 infections.

This is a huge reduction from last month’s high of 5,161 cases in the week to January 8 – down 64 per cent.

Derby has seen its weekly Covid case numbers fall by more than 70 per cent since its early January peak, reducing from a high of 1,745 to 503.

However, in the context of last September’s figures, the authorities clearly have a long way to go before infections are back at manageable levels.

Last September’s comparatively low monthly infection total of 1,297 cases in Derbyshire quickly developed into a figure 10 times that in October – when the county recorded 10,273 Covid cases.

September’s figures are key, with central government aiming to have schools back open from March 8 “at the earliest” with a potential full reopening instead of a phased approach now on the cards.

A confirmation on the government’s approach to school reopening is to be made on Monday, February 22.

The Department for Education told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that schools would reopen “as soon as the public health picture allows” and that schools would get two weeks notice to prepare.

There is said to be pressure from within the Conservative party calling for schools to go back in a staggered approach with primary schools opening before secondaries.
This follows leading scientists warning that reopening all schools simultaneously could push the UK’s R number (reproduction of the virus) above 1, meaning it would spread to more people.

Health officials in the county are eager for cases to return to around 50 a week or lower to regain control of an effective and efficient track and trace process.

To reach this level the county’s weekly case numbers would need to fall by 97 per cent, which shows the scale of the challenge still facing us, despite infection levels heading in the right direction and having made significant reductions.

A Derbyshire County Council spokesperson said: “Derbyshire County Council would like to thank all staff in schools, nurseries and other early years settings for the way in which they have remained open throughout the whole of the pandemic.

“The Secretary of State for Education decides how and when we welcome back more children. This is determined nationally by the government and not by individual schools, local authorities or multi-academy trusts.”

A Derby City Council spokesperson said: “It is far too early to comment on the potential reopening of schools in March as there has been no announcement.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Derby last week and siad new rapid Covid-19 tests, manufactured in the city, producing a result in 10 minutes, were key to reopening schools from March 8 “at the earliest”.

At the weekend, asked about the return of schools from March 8, he told reporters: “I’m optimistic, but we have to be cautious.”

“Our children’s education is our number one priority, but then working forward, getting non-essential retail open as well and then, in due course, as and when we can prudently, cautiously, of course we want to be opening hospitality as well.

“I will be trying to set out as much as I possibly can in as much detail as I can, always understanding that we have to be wary of the pattern of disease.

“We don’t want to be forced into any kind of retreat or reverse ferret.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are committed to fully reopening schools as soon as the public health picture allows, and it is hoped that we will be able to do this from 8 March.

“Right through the pandemic have taken every step to ensure pupils can spend as much time in classrooms as possible.

“We will set out plans for schools, parents and pupils as soon as possible, and will provide two weeks’ notice for them to prepare.

“We regularly review evidence and advice from sources including SAGE, Public Health England and the Office for National Statistics, to ensure our policies are guided by the most up-to-date scientific and medical understanding.”

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