Pupils and staff have been asked to start wearing face masks again in Oldham schools over fears about a surge in winter Covid-19 cases.
Public health officials had written to secondary school headteachers recommending that they reintroduce face coverings in communal areas from Monday (8 November).
Students will not have to wear face coverings while sat at desks in classrooms, eating or outside.
According to one email sent to parents, the council letter stated that despite the borough’s schools having lower rates than other parts of the country in the first half of the autumn term, there were some ‘sizeable outbreaks’.
“We feel that it is important to strengthen these measures now, before we see any increases in our case rate,” the email from Oldham Hulme Grammar School states.
“There is a risk that if we wait until rates are even higher, we will have waited too long to control the spread.”
Face coverings have not been compulsory in English schools since May, but rising cases have seen some reintroducing them.
According to the email to parents, all students and staff members who live with someone who has Covid-19 are asked to take daily lateral flow tests before coming into school.
If a child tests negative they can continue to attend school and do not have to isolate at home.
If they test positive they must start isolating and arrange a positive PCR test while also informing the school of the result.
Currently Oldham has the lowest overall infection rate across all of Greater Manchester’s ten boroughs, standing at 264.7 cases per 100,000 people.
However since the beginning of the pandemic infection rates across the region have regularly fluctuated with figures rising rapidly following outbreaks of cases, and decreasing once they are contained.
A spokesperson for Oldham council said: “Due to the continuing fairly high rates of Covid in Oldham and to try and avoid an increase in case rates as we enter the winter season, we’re strengthening our measures by recommending the use of face coverings in communal areas of secondary schools in Oldham.
“We’ve written to the headteachers recommending that pupils wear face coverings when moving around the school, they are not being asked to wear them while sitting at their desks in classrooms, eating or whilst outside.
“Our aim is to prioritise measures that reduce the spread of Covid whilst having the smallest impact on education.
“We feel that there is a risk in waiting until rates are even higher, as it may be too late to control the spread. We’ve seen fairly rapid spreads of Covid in Oldham previously and we want to prevent that happening this winter.”
Oldham is following in the footsteps of Trafford council which asked schools to bring back masks in early October following a surge in cases.
According to government data there has been a 17 per cent uptake in the first Covid-19 vaccine among children aged 12 to 15 in Oldham since last month.
Around 42 per cent of young people aged 16 to 17 have received their first dose.