Protecting schools from COVID-19

November 10, 2020

This article has not been updated recently

COVID-19 cases are high throughout most parts of the UK, and all four nations of the UK have brought in further restrictions aiming to control the pandemic. But unlike the lockdowns in the Spring, most schools are staying open this time around.

Parents are understandably worried about the virus spreading within schools and potentially infecting vulnerable family members and teachers. Yet we still know little about what COVID-19 looks like in children, or how transmission of the virus among children, which is likely to be lower than adults, impacts on the wider population.

To provide reassurance to parents at this crucial time, track the spread of the virus and better understand how COVID-19 affects children, we’ve launched a new School Community feature through the COVID Symptom Study App

This allows parents and carers to log how their child/children are feeling to a secure school community network, so schools can receive daily insights into the health of their students and make data-driven decisions to keep pupils and staff safe.

Here’s an overview of how the feature works, and how it can help safeguard schools this winter. 

How our new School Communities programme works

When a school decides to take part, the headteacher must sign up and provide some basic information to set up a community for the school. If you’re a headteacher or school leader, just register your school here. 

You will then be able to add your school’s unique Bubbles, which will be added instantly in the COVID Symptom Study app. This means you can later receive personalised insights unique to your school and Bubble structure.

Parents then download the regular COVID Symptom Study app or use their app’s existing account to add their child/children as additional profiles. They can then link their child’s profile to their school network and their specific Bubble. 

Using data to keep your school safe

Each day, every parent and carer takes a minute to answer a few short questions about how each child is feeling, any symptoms they are experiencing, and whether they have taken a COVID-19 test. Children do not use the app themselves.

We aggregate anonymous symptom and test data from each school and Bubble, then share insights back to the school leadership on a daily basis, including:

- The number of children’s health reports submitted for that day

- The number of children in each Bubble that are feeling unwell 

- The profile of symptoms that children are experiencing

- The number of children who have tested positive for COVID-19

Parents and carers will also receive updates on how many parents are currently part of their child’s in-app Bubble, and how many children are feeling well or unwell in their child’s Bubble and in the school overall.

To protect privacy, we never pass on individual personal data or identities to schools or other parents/carers. What’s more, we only provide these insights when enough students in a school are taking part to ensure anonymity of the children and enable robust statistical analysis. 

We have designed the School Community programme to help keep children, families and staff safe through lockdown and beyond.

Dom Kenrick is Headteacher at Warden Park Secondary Academy, one of the schools that took part in pilot testing the new feature. He told us: "Our use of the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app has been a powerful way to engage parents in the reporting of symptoms. This engagement has helped to reinforce their confidence in our implemented Academy practices and protocols whilst also supporting important national research.”

Understanding COVID-19 in children and young people

Already, data from the app suggests that over half (of nearly 200) children who tested positive for COVID-19 don’t report any of the three ‘classic’ symptoms (cough, fever, anosmia) in the week before and after their test. Early research also shows that children and young people generally get milder symptoms, and may be less infective,  but we urgently need to know more about how the disease affects them. 

Schools that use the School Community feature will be contributing to national research investigating how the disease presents in children of different ages and how it spreads in schools.

We need as many schools and parents to sign up as possible because more data means more robust analysis and more powerful insights. We’re hoping that we can build the biggest database about children and COVID-19 in the world, providing urgently-needed answers about how COVID-19 is affecting families. 

Tell your school you want to take part

The School Communities programme is now open to all schools across the UK. Like everything we do here at the COVID Symptom Study, the app is completely free to use for both parents and schools. 

If you are a headteacher, you can sign up to use the school network feature today and start getting parents involved.

If you’re a parent, carer, teacher, school governor or student, please pass on this information to your headteacher - just share our School Communities page with them and let them know you would like the school to join. And you can find out more about the programme from our Parent Guide pages.

Finally, if you’re a parent or carer and your school isn’t taking part, you can still download the COVID Symptom Study app and add profiles for your children or anyone else in your household, although you won’t be able to link up with a school network. 

It takes just a minute every day to log a health report for yourself or your child, and you’ll be contributing to vital COVID-19 research.

Thank you.

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