The Wokingham Paper

Coronavirus – Council seeks to reassure parents: 'Schools are safe and will remain open'

Willow Bank Infant School
Willow Bank Infant School in Woodley

THE COUNCIL is seeking to reassure parents that schools are safe and will remain open unless Public Heath England advises them otherwise.

On Saturday, it was revealed that a Woodley primary school staff member caught the coronavirus while on holiday. It was the first educational establishment to be closed as a result of the infection.

The affected staff member from Willow Bank Infants School had been in Italy during half-term.

On their return, they attended a training course at Aldryngton Primary School in Earley on Tuesday, February 25, before self-isolating the following day.

The two schools, plus Willow Bank Junior School were closed for deep cleaning and, in Willow Bank Infants’ case, to allow staff members and pupils to self-isolate.

As a precautionary measure, staff from The Bulmershe School have also been self-isolating as they had children at Willow Bank.

Public Health England launched a tracing operation to contact everyone that the infected staff member had met, including those who attended the course. Those deemed at risk were tested for the virus. Some of these results have come back and none were found to have the coronavirus.

Aldryngton Primary School has reopened, Willow Bank Junior School will reopen today (Thursday) and the Infants School is expected to reopen on Wednesday, March 11.

A statement from Wokingham Borough Council said: “The results for those who required testing for coronavirus as a result of their contact with the case are now returning and, to date, all have been negative”.

Cllr Charles Margetts, executive member for adult social care and public health at Wokingham Borough Council, has been liaising with the affected schools and sought to reassure parents that up-to-date and accurate information would be presented to them.

“We want people to stay calm and focus on the advice from Public Health England,” he told Wokingham.Today. “We will continue to keep people updated.

“We released our first information on Saturday night, and I did television interviews on BBC News and Meridian on Sunday. I’ve been on BBC Radio Berkshire.

“Council officers are working round the clock on this to ensure there is a steady flow of information that is kept updated.”

The staff member at Willow Bank Infants School is “getting better” Cllr Margetts said. “I can’t say when they will be released from hospital, and we have a duty of care to protect their identity as much as possible.

“We hope to have all the results from the testing back by early next week and we will announce them as soon as we can.”

Cllr Margetts also reiterated the advice from Public Health England that schools should remain open unless they felt they needed to be closed.

“The risk is the same to other members of the public, we have to take the advice of Public Health England,” he explained. “With the schools, the council arranged for Aldryngton to be deep cleaned, but PHE’s view was that the school was safe to open from day one.

“We made the decision to support the school and governors so we could reassure parents that all possible steps were being taken.”

As we went to press, it was announced that there had been 85 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the UK – but Cllr Margetts was keen to point out that there had been 16,659 people tested, which meant that the vast majority had been clear of the virus. He also warned that there will be more cases.

“All we can do is manage the risk and contain it,” he explained. “The first thing we did (with Willow Bank Infants School) was to get medical treatment. Public Health England then assessed the risk of spreading infection.

“We’re still waiting for some of the tests to come back, we hope no one will have the virus, but we stand ready to get appropriate medical treatment for these people if they do.”

And he urged residents to do their best to help stop the spread of the virus.
“If you keep coughing and sneezing, use a tissue,” he said. “If you have any concerns call NHS 111, don’t go to a doctor, a GP or a chemist. Call 111 and seek advice.

“If you’re travelling, consult the Government’s advice.

“There is no reason why you can’t go about life as normal. If anything changes, we will be the first to inform residents.

“We assure the public that their health is our number one priority. We will do nothing that puts that at risk.”

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