Gary Griffiths – independent music education consultant and author of Music Unlocked – gives a short guidance update for music education providers on making music safely in light of the latest Covid case numbers.
Just before Christmas, a new record for daily confirmed infections was set, when we tipped over 90,000. Daily stats have yet to settle following Christmas and new year hiatuses but yesterday, just shy of 190,000 were recorded. Numbers in hospital have grown quite quickly from 8,000 to over 11,000. It is pressure on the NHS which will drive further restrictions, more than infection numbers (which, in any case, are a reflection of increased testing as well as prevalence).
Around 25% of all infections are fully vaccinated and even boosted people but hospitalisations are still overwhelmingly of people who are unvaccinated. Omicron does appear to be milder than previous variants; it also seems that where vaccinated people do become infected with omicron, the vaccine protects against more serious disease.
The Zoe Covid study is reporting that omicron symptoms in vaccinated people are indistinguishable from cold symptoms and that if you have these symptoms, the probability of being Covid-positive is somewhere approaching 50%. They recommend a confirmatory PCR test.
Secondary-age children are now recommended to wear face coverings in classrooms, and also in out-of-school settings. Masks may be removed for strenuous activity such as physical exercise. The guidance does not mention singing or playing wind and brass instruments therefore there is no specific restriction on them. It does not, however, say that masks may be removed to play instruments.
The Colorado research found that playing wind and brass instruments through a slit in a mask resulted in a measurable reduction in water droplet production than playing without a mask. It notes however that this is not practical for double reed players (specifically oboe).
Face coverings are not recommended for primary-age and younger children.
Adults, including visitors, should wear face coverings when moving around communal areas. Teachers and activity leaders are not expected to mask when leading from the front of the room. This implies that they should when moving around the classroom or leading from within the group.
Performances may still take place, subject to risk assessment and requirements to manage audiences as before. Educational visits are possible but the guidance is cautious.
There are no changes which affect the music education sector. Music is not mentioned specifically in either the schools or childcare and playwork guidance and, as such, there are no specific restrictions.
Face coverings should be worn in schools in communal areas and where distancing cannot be maintained. Childcare settings (i.e. out-of-school settings including music service activity) are not considered public places, so face coverings are not required by law but settings may set their own policies and parents may prefer their children to wear face coverings.
Children under the age of three must not wear face coverings at all on safety grounds.
Concerts and domestic educational visits may go ahead, subject to risk assessment.
Music Mark recommends:
- Reviewing risk assessments and using the start of term as an opportunity to re-affirm measures to all staff and associates
- Reviewing their code of practice for peripatetic (visiting) music teachers, particularly in light of updated guidance on face coverings in England
- Ensuring that arrangements for moving to online teaching and stepping up mitigations are robust
Lateral flow testing
The UK Health & Security Agency’s technical briefing no.32 provides data on the effectiveness of lateral flow tests at detecting omicron and concludes that all tests approved for use in the UK are effective. The music education workforce should continue to self-test twice weekly and, in the event of a positive lateral flow test, seek a confirmatory PCR.