Hastings Academy, one of the three secondary schools serving the borough, closed its gates to most pupils for two weeks from last Wednesday after at least five of them tested positive for coronavirus. Parents were informed with less than 24 hours notice.

The decision was taken, according to the academy principal Hilary Morawska, after detailed discussion with Public Health England and “in consultation and agreement with “the local authority.” 

The reason given was not the risk of further infection of pupils, but “the number of staff that we currently have self-isolating”. 

The school remains open, however, for the children of “critical workers”. In this definition are not just managers and staff in health and social care services but a much wider range of both public and private sector workers, including those providing education, childcare and general social work,  servicing transport,  working within the justice system, police and national security systems, food production and distribution – even “journalists and broadcasters who are providing public service broadcasting”.

Children identified as “vulnerable” are also expected to continue to attend, while weekly food boxes can be collected from the school for those who will not be attending but are eligible for free school meals.

In the meantime, the car park of the Academy was used opportunistically last weekend as a temporary ‘pop-up’ virus testing station. As previously reported in HIP, the Hastings area has been poorly served up to now with accessible testing sites, the closest being at Gatwick Airport or Chichester following closure of one at the Amex stadium in Falmer. Another full-time facility was opened at Plumpton racecourse last week, which is still, at best, over an hour’s drive from the town.

But no testing site, permanent or temporary, is open to the public to walk in. You need to have secured a previous NHS referral. This should be offered if you report identifiable symptoms – a high temperature, new and continuous cough, or loss of smell or taste – but won’t be if you merely share a household or have been in close contact with someone who has the virus.

Only around 3% actually processed [Covid-19 tests] turn out to be positive

Testing turnover at Hastings Academy over the two days of the weekend appeared less than brisk. This could suggest that local cases remain low. It might also reflect the logistical difficulties of processing initial reports and marrying them up with short term testing facility time-slots. And it may also be that the reported bottlenecks in laboratory processing mean that test numbers need to be rationed.

Those attending at the Academy were being told that results should be provided to them within a period of two to four days. It will be interesting to hear whether this results in a spike in local cases.

Public Health England issues statistics for numbers of tests being undertaken and numbers of cases identified. They can’t tell us the numbers of people who believe they have, or have had, symptoms but don’t manage to get a test – still less, the substantial proportion who may have had the virus asymptomatically. What they do reveal is that currently only around 3% actually processed turn out to be positive.

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