Today – Monday 19 July – is apparently freedom day. But is it really?
My school limped to the end of our year last Thursday with many of Year 10 and Year 12 self-isolating as a result of positive cases. A whole department is also out.
When it started to affect other year groups, the school took the decision to return to masks in classrooms. It’s left many of us nervous about what’s to come next, after the rules change today.
Until now, schools were expected to do contact tracing for positive tests. From today, that will no longer be the case. The national NHS system will be doing it instead – contacting students and asking for their close contacts.
Now, I know we’ve had a lot to do over the past 18 months or so, but this seems highly inefficient to me. We know who students’ close contacts are. In most cases, checking a few seating plans is significantly quicker than asking a student who they’ve been standing close to.
Covid in schools: The risk to clinically vulnerable teachers on 'freedom day'
And what of primary students and EYFS? I have a five-year-old and a three-year-old. At the end of a day, they can barely remember who they played with, let alone who they’ve been close to. Asking them who their close contacts have been is, quite clearly, not going to work. Have the people involved with this decision ever met a five-year-old?
This new guidance also has hidden in it something quite concerning for those of us who are clinically extremely vulnerable. We are advised to avoid those who are not double vaccinated. And that we should certainly avoid staying in a confined space with many of them for a prolonged period.
The guidance doesn’t, however, say that vulnerable teachers should go back to shielding. Furthermore, unlike most other countries in the world, there is still no plan to vaccinate students. This situation is therefore unlikely to change over the coming months.
Again, vulnerable teachers and those who care for vulnerable people at home will be facing the strong likelihood of contracting Covid in the workplace.
'More nervous than I've felt during this outbreak'
September is looming over my summer holidays, like a dementor waiting to suck the joy out of a well-needed break. With over 50,000 new cases in a day, it seems likely that not only will the virus continue to spread, but that we will also see more variants.
Double vaccination, while good, is clearly not 100 per cent protective. Hospitals are rapidly filling up again.
All of these things are of great concern themselves to a vulnerable person. But when you factor in the exposure to students, it is anxiety-inducing. My own asthma became out of control earlier in the last half-term because of the high pollen levels. I was lucky that I didn’t need hospital care, but I have fellow teachers who are not so lucky, and their treatment is now at risk.
So, how am I feeling as a vulnerable teacher, on “freedom day”? Possibly more nervous than I’ve felt yet during this outbreak. When infections were this high earlier in the year, schools moved to remote learning. I wonder what levels will make this happen next academic year.
It feels like we’re witnessing the bit in Jaws when the mayor reopens the beach when the danger is far from over. I feel like I should be feeling glad that the world is opening up again, but instead I feel a sense of impending doom.
I am fearful that the decision has been made to not lock down again, and worry that instead vulnerable teachers may be asked to teach from home: a solution that really doesn’t work that well for anyone. And I worry about my students and colleagues being exposed to this virus and taking it home to their families and friends.
To protect others, I intend to continue to wear my mask (despite being exempt). I would ask everyone who can to consider doing the same. This is far from over.
Heidi Drake is deputy head of English at Colchester Royal Grammar School