Contact tracing has not stopped in schools
16th Oct 2020
Contact tracers have been told not to trace contacts of Covid-19 cases connected to educational settings.
This is incorrect. Contact tracers have been told to not escalate these cases to local health teams, but their contacts will still be traced nationally.
The British Government have issued an instruction to contact tracers not to trace coronavirus infections that occur in schools.”
Tory Fibs Twitter account, 10 October 2020
The news blog Skwawkbox, the Tory Fibs Twitter account and many people on Facebook have shared an allegedly leaked document from the NHS staff bank NHS Professionals, claiming it tells Covid-19 contact tracers not to trace cases that occur in schools or other educational settings. We have also been asked to check this claim by users on WhatsApp.
Skwawkbox says that the document told contact tracers “not to trace contacts of people who catch the coronavirus if they work in or attend any education setting”.
This is not true. The document does not say this. Contact tracing work in England continues in these cases. However, the document does say that the way contacts are traced is changing in educational settings.
What the document says
Contact tracing in England is arranged into three ”tiers”. Tier 3 consists of national contact tracers, tier 2 consists of national contact tracers who are healthcare professionals, and tier 1 is formed of local health protection teams from Public Health England. (These have nothing to do with the three “tiers” of local alert level.)
The document in question appears to come from NHS Professionals, which “provide[s] a bank of highly skilled temporary workers who want to work flexibly within the NHS.” It includes three new instructions that seem to be intended for “tier 2” clinical case workers.
The first instruction in the document reads:
“With immediate effect, Clinical Case Workers should not escalate any cases who work or attend educational settings: pre-school/nursery, primary school, secondary school or higher education (university/college). Single cases in these settings are no longer followed up by the Level 1/local HPTs [health protection teams].”
A sentence that appears to have been added to the document image in some cases summarises it correctly. It says: “Confirmation that Tier 2 (national) contact tracers are now being told NOT to pass on single positive case results to Local Health Protection Teams – in other words, wait until there’s an outbreak before local teams even know there has been a positive test already in the school.”
Full Fact contacted the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), which confirmed that Covid-19 cases are still being traced in educational settings, but in a different way
A spokesperson said: “A single case linked to an educational setting will be handled through the schools advice line or professional clinical contact tracing staff via tier 2, instead of being treated as a complex case. Any potential outbreak will still be fully investigated.”
The NHS Professionals document does not say why this change is happening, but DHSC said this was part of a plan to handle more individual cases centrally as contact tracing skills improved.
“NHS Test and Trace resource has not been reduced for schools and universities,” the spokesperson told us. We are developing the skills of tier 2 contact tracing staff so they can manage a broader range of cases. This change was always intended so that highly specialist staff could target their efforts to control outbreaks.”
This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as partly false because contact tracers have not been told to stop tracing Covid-19 cases in educational settings.