‘Super-spreaders’ found in Derbyshire school Covid outbreak

Expert reveals details of hotspot

ByEddie BisknellLocal Democracy Reporter

  • 16:32, 19 MAY 2021

“Super-spreaders” were detected in a Derbyshire school Covid outbreak, a health expert has revealed.

Dean Wallace said the break-out at Wilsthorpe School saw evidence that certain individuals, for unknown reasons, have particularly high infectiousness – meaning they spread the virus at a higher rate.

Mr Wallace, public health director at Derbyshire County Council, said this mimicked studies on cruise ship outbreaks earlier in the pandemic last year.

Mr Wallace said: “You saw certain clustering of cases and a pattern which points to high infectivity in a certain individual or individuals which will have led to that spread which we saw. That individual may not even have known at the time whether they were infectious or becoming infectious.”

He said there were further lessons learned from the Long Eaton school’s outbreak: “It has given us an insight into some of the advantages of some schools having deeper staggers between timetable changes and different entry points into corridors.

“Ventilation systems and the advantages of having the windows which open, which some modern buildings have moved away from, have been reinforced to a certain extent.

“That has been under-appreciated previously, the importance of ventilation.”

Mr Wallace said 86 per cent of all the cases in Long Eaton during the time of the outbreak were tied to the school itself, with contact tracing and self-isolation able to quash a much wider outburst.

He said the outbreak cases were the Kent variant, not the Indian or South African variants.

Mr Wallace said health officials also found that many pupils who tested positive were completely asymptomatic – did not display symptoms – and others showed symptoms outside of the main three.

The main three symptoms are a temperature of 37.8 degrees celsius or above, a new and continuous cough and the loss of sense of smell or taste.

He said other symptoms pupils displayed included stomach aches, a sore throat, headaches and muscle ache.

Mr Wallace said the outbreak also showed that health officials cannot do anything effectively or efficiently without the support of the public, more than 2,000 of whom came forward to take PCR (polymerase chain reaction) Covid-19 tests, which are more accurate than quicker lateral flow tests but which take up to three days for results to come back.

The virus outbreak saw more than 170 staff and pupils test positive for the virus, with many more required to self-isolate.

Mr Wallace says the outbreak was tied purely to the school and was not a wider issue in the town.

This, he said, mimicked the outbreak at Sudbury Prison in the Derbyshire Dales in March.

However, he did say that more than 50 cases spilled out into the wider community, which were linked back to the school through the council’s contact tracing team.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that health officials learned a lot of valuable lessons from the school outbreak.

Mr Wallace said the benefit of pupils and staff carrying out regular Covid testing showed their worth, along with the requirements for face masks, social distancing and regular hand sanitising. All of these played their part in helping to quantify, track and control the outbreak and reinforced their importance, he said.

He said ventilation systems and having windows open also showed their value.

Regular lateral flow tests (which take 30 minutes), specifically, were a “massive” help, he said.

Mr Wallace said: “You have identified stuff that might always have been there, but you never knew about.

“The other school of thought is that you have tested and identified something early, which, had you not done that, the first you would have known about it is through a widespread community outbreak with lots of people showing symptoms until the whole thing tipped over.

“This gave us a huge foot up.”