Explosion of cases in schools: number of groups in isolation doubles and 15,000 positives are detected in a single day

Argimon says that without the change in protocols there would be 600,000 children in isolation, unlike the 93,000

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The playground of a school in Barcelona in an archive image.

BarcelonaData highlights the explosion in case numbers detected in schools: in just one day more than 15,000 infected students have been detected, the number of groups forced to isolate has almost doubled (from 78 to 158 in 24 hours) and about 7% of professionals working in schools are infected. The situation is pushing the centres –completely overwhelmed by the management of cases and sick leave– and families, who have many doubts about how to proceed, with constant changes. Even so, the Health Department assures that the changes in the protocol will stay in place. "The protocol in schools is working. Presentiality is a value that we want to defend to the maximum," said the secretary of Public Health, Carmen Cabezas. Catalan Health minister Josep Maria Argimon gave data: if the whole group were isolated when a positive case was detected in the classroom, now there would be 600,000 children not attending school. "And this would be a huge problem for families, let's be clear," he added. Right now there are 93,826 students and 7,409 teachers in isolation.

The main change in the protocols is that now a group will only be forced to isolate when there are at least five cases, and not one as up until now. Nevertheless, there are 158 classes in which at least five children have covid. However, there could be more because when the teacher is not forced to isolate, either because they have been vaccinated or recently recovered from the disease, the class does not come up in the statistics as "in isolation".

In spite of the fact that globally the contagions are also rampant – more than 700,000 people have been infected by Omicron in 20 days in Catalonia, 11% of the population – schools are suffering as never before and the boom in cases has required some adjustments to be made to the protocol so that the sanitary and pharmaceutical system has the capacity to channel them. The latest modification, announced this Wednesday, is to extend from four to seven days the deadline for antigen testing in pharmacies when there is a positive in the classroom and to do only one test to each student, even if more positives appear in their class that week. This system, which is voluntary, has allowed the 160,000 rapid tests to be carried out which, in total, have detected 11,500 positive cases during the first week of school after the Christmas vacations. These cases would probably not have been diagnosed because most of them are asymptomatic

It is not surprising that there are so many cases in schools: right now the age groups with the highest incidence are for those aged 0 to 9 (3,696 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 7 days) and 10 to 19 (3,995); that is, there are twice as many cases in the age groups of people who attend school than in the rest of the population. The under-12s are the group with the lowest vaccination rate: only 37.6% of children between 5 and 11 years of age are vaccinated (75,000 in total).

According to the professor at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) and researcher at the University of Leicester Salvador Macip, there has been a "lack of planning" in school protocols. In statements to Catalunya Ràdio, he said that "overwhelmed" as pharmacies may be, it is not "ideal" to carry out an antigen test 7 days after a contact. "The tests should be done in the first few days. If a person is positive and does not know it, there is a risk of infecting more people," he insisted.