THE number of children aged 5-10 who have tested positive for Covid-19 has quadrupled over the past fortnight, as parents are urged to only take a school place if “absolutely essential”.

Levels in this age group are now at the highest since the pandemic began, as Covid continues to rip through the borough’s communities.

Today, St Helens Borough Council’s director of public health, Sue Forster, and Jim Leivers, director of children and young people’s services, wrote to parents and carers to set out the starkness of the current situation.

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The letter reveals that, as of January 8, more than 1,500 new cases were reported across the borough of St Helens, equating to a weekly infection rate of 849.5 per 100,000 population.

A worrying number of these have been found in younger children, who are likely passing the virus on to others in their household.

Today’s letter says it is “paramount importance” we work together to stop the infection rate surging further, following a significant rise over the past week.

“We expect the levels to either rise or continue at these high rates over the coming weeks, until lockdown measures start to be realised in the rates,” the letter says.

“While at lower levels than some other age groups, the rate of young people aged 5 to 10 years having a positive coronavirus test has more than quadrupled over the last fortnight, to the highest levels since the pandemic began.

“This shows the importance of avoiding infections in younger age groups.”

Since going into lockdown, school leaders across the country have reported a high demand for places for children of key workers and vulnerable pupils.

The letter sent to parents today reveals a number of school leaders locally have also expressed concerns about the “extremely high demand” for places.

It says this is putting them under greater pressure in delivering a remote offer, and in ensuring they can adequately staff schools when staff have to self-isolate or are absent for other reasons.

“School leaders know their communities well, they have put in place rigorous risk assessments, but they are trying to respond to an ever-changing situation,” the letter says.

“We would ask that you respect the very difficult circumstances in which they are working.

“The offer from schools may be subject to change according to staffing and changes in government guidance and we would ask for your patience whilst schools determine how many children they can safely accommodate.

“Schools will, however, continue to provide high quality remote learning and will ensure the pastoral needs of children and young people are met as best they can.”

Last Thursday, as schools were dealing with the increased demand for places, new guidance was published by the Department for Education (DfE) complicated matters even further.

The DfE told schools there was “no limit” for places for children of critical workers and telling them not to limit attendance of these groups.

The guidance also states that children with at least one parent or carer who is a critical worker could attend school, even if they were working from home.

However, the guidance also urges parents who are critical workers to keep their children at home if they can.

St Helens Council said it is hoped that such action will help to bring the transmission rates down.

The letter says: “Schools recognise that emergency provision is crucial for some families and they are doing all they can to accommodate need.

“However, with the rates as high as they are now, it is vital that we work together to keep the number of children in school at a minimum, in order to keep staff and those children in attendance as safe as possible.

“For this reason, we are appealing to parents/carers to only take up a place at school if it is absolutely essential.

“On Friday, 8th January, the government updated their guidance.

“It now states that even those who are critical workers keep their children at home if they can and only take up a place if they are working in a critical role and have no other childcare option available.

“It is hoped that such action will help to reduce the transmission rates.”

Here is the letter in full:

St Helens Star:

St Helens Star: