Diseases expert Professor Hugh Pennington said spread of coronavirus in a Dundee school may be down to its special circumstances.
The outbreak at Kingspark School, which caters for children with additional support needs, has infected 22 people, 17 of them staff, two pupils and three community contacts.
Prof Pennington said the nature of the school meant it had a higher ratio of staff to pupils, with adults more likely to spread the virus and become infected.
The emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University, insisted schools were “reasonably safe” so long as the contacting tracing system was “ready to jump in at the slightest hint of anything”.
Schools not incubators
He also said that unlike with flu, schools “don’t seem to be incubators for the virus”, where the infection might spread among children and then be taken home to parents and grandparents.
The most likely area for the virus to be transmitted within schools, he said, were staff rooms.
Prof Pennington told us: “You could say, looking at the age of people in a school the dangerous place to be if there is one in schools, and there doesn’t really seem to be one of any consequence, is the staff room.”
On Kingspark, he said: “Most of the cases are in adults associated with the school, and presumably they have a very high staff-student ratio there because of the nature of the pupils.
“Clearly, if a school has children with special needs you will have more teachers per child than you would in an ordinary school.”
He also said there may be closer contact between staff members and added: “There may be some special factors there which account for that sizeable number of cases in this school.”
In an exclusive interview with The Courier and Evening Telegraph – to be published in full soon – Prof Pennington also said extra care had to be taken with children with additional support needs on the “off-chance” they may be more susceptible to more severe infection than other children and less able to socially distance.
With infections like the flu, Prof Pennington said schools can act like an amplifier, causing them to take off when term starts after the summer holidays.
But he said: “That certainly doesn’t seem to have happened with this virus, it doesn’t behave like that.
There’s really good scientific evidence that the younger you are the less likely you are to catch it and the less likely you are to pass it on to anyone else.”
Professor Hugh Pennington
“There’s really good scientific evidence that the younger you are the less likely you are to catch it and the less likely you are to pass it on to anyone else.”
Young kids, the professor said, “don’t turn a hair” when they are infected by Covid-19, although senior secondary pupils were more at risk of catching and transmitting it.
He said: “There is a very strong relationship between age and the ability of the virus to cause infection, the ability of the virus to spread and the mischief it can cause.”
Kingspark School closed last Wednesday, the day after the first case was confirmed. All pupils and staff have been told to self-isolate.
Other single cases have been confirmed at St Peter and St Paul’s School and Happy Times out-of-school club at Downfield Primary School, both in the city, Oakbank Primary School, Perth, and Newhill Primary School, Blairgowrie.