Misc 25/02/2021

Isolating classes with large numbers of positives: schools already feel the impact of the British variant

The presence of the new strain could become norm throughout Catalonia next week

3 min
The playground of a school, in an archive image.
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BarcelonaUntil now, in almost eight out of ten school groups in isolation only a single positive case had been detected. The Department of Education claims that the percentage remains stable, but admits that in some specific cases many more positives are being detected. For example - and according to data from Traçacovid - in the Arrels II School in Solsona have detected 12 positives in the same secondary school class; in Santa Margarida de Montbui school in Montbui (Anoia) there have been up to 68 positives and 15 of its 23 classes are isolating; and in the nursery Pa amb Xocolata in Tona (Osona), 23 infections have detected. What is happening? "The only explanation is the British variant," says Pere Joan Cardona, who works in Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital's microbiology team in Badalona (Can Ruti). The latest health data indicate that this variant, which is more easily transmitted, already accounts for 40% of cases detected in Catalonia and affects some regions especially, such as the Vall d'Aran, where 92% of cases of covid-19 are caused by this new strain.

The situation could become more complicated. "The presence of this variant is the norm throughout Catalonia and, if there are places with little incidence, perhaps it is because not enough tests for it have been done. Next week we can reach 100% presence of this new variant," warns Cardona. This puts schools on alert, because the spread of this variant throughout Catalonia would mean more classes in isolation and longer quarantines. The researcher explains that the concentration of the virus is the same as the original Wuhan variant we knew until now, but the virus "is inside the body" for longer: instead of incubating, showing symptoms and eliminating the virus in 8 days as with the original strain, the body needs thirteen days to eliminate the virus. "This five-day differential makes it necessary to lengthen quarantines both before and after," says Cardona. That is, to investigate close contacts from 72 hours before the symptoms start showing (and not just 48 hours, as has been done so far) and extend the quarantines four more days. "The Health Department has told us that as they suspect we have caught the British variant, we have to quarantine for 14 days not 10," confirmed sources of Arrels II School of Solsona. In the first term, only two groups had had to go into isolation at this school; now, however, the new strain has hit them hard: twelve students in one class have been infected.

Family contacts

The situation was also difficult in Montbui, where only a few days ago Effective Potential Growth exceeded 2,300 points. "Ninety percent of the cases are linked to the outbreak at the school. The origin is the great mystery," say municipal sources. Again, everything indicates that the British variant is behind the explosion of cases in the municipality, which has asked Social Services and Local Police to monitor compliance with quarantines, closed playgrounds and postponed the resumption of extracurricular activities a few days. In Montbui the big focus was the school, but soon positive cases began to spread to another school attended by younger siblings. This confirms what the head of microbiology at the Hospital de la Vall d'Hebron in Barcelona, Tomàs Pumarola, explained to ARA a few days ago: "The variant is growing strongly in Catalonia. Before, when the virus entered a home, it affected a percentage of the members, but now the variant is transmitted better and now affects them all". More than half of the outbreaks detected in Catalonia originate in homes or in sporadic meetings between family members.

However, Cardona gives arguments for tranquility, at least in medical terms: "There is no reason to worry because the British variant has no more severity. In fact, all the centers consulted by the ARA claim that students who have tested positive have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic. The impact of the variant on school routines is a different matter, however. Now there are 1,051 groups in isolation, 96 more than on Wednesday, affecting about 26,000 students. All this is analysed in detail by the Catalan Government, which will meet this Friday morning to finalise possible relaxations of the restrictions, as requested by shops and the hospitality industry, although they will be "as careful as possible," according to acting vice president, Pere Aragonès. The rate of propagation is slowly increasing and has already reached 1.02, one hundredth more than yesterday. In fact, this small rebound of the virus is basically linked to the British variant and raises many doubts about the consequences that could have to relax the restrictions. There are still 1,824 covid patients in hospitals, 569 of them in ICUs.

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