Symptom-free testing played key role in reducing spread of COVID-19 in Southampton schools, data shows

Symptom-free testing played a key role prior to Easter in helping to break chains of transmission and reduce infections following the return of pupils to schools, according to data from Southampton City Council.

The council and school leaders say that symptom-free testing made a substantial contribution to helping to curb the spread of COVID-19 by helping to detect the significant proportion of COVID-19 cases where individuals did not display symptoms but might still have gone on to infect others.

Early detection of COVID-19 infections, which may otherwise have gone undetected, meant that early action could be taken by individuals to self-isolate and break chains of transmission at an early stage.  

Lateral Flow Tests – which are strongly encouraged for secondary school and college pupils who do not show symptoms of COVID-19 – detected nearly half the confirmed COVID cases in education settings between 8 March, when the majority of pupils returned to schools for in person learning, and the end of term on 1 April.

In total, there were 142 confirmed COVID-19 cases in education settings in this period. 69 of these cases were detected in the first instance via symptom-free Lateral Flow testing, with the other 62 cases confirmed via PCR tests which are typically for people showing COVID-19 symptoms. The test type in 11 cases was not recorded. All pupils who needed to self-isolate as a result were supported through remote education provided by schools.

Ahead of the start of the new school term, the council and school leaders says the impact of symptom-free testing offers a reminder about why it is vital that as many people as possible participate in regular testing to help keep schools and their wider communities safe.

Dr Debbie Chase, Director of Public Health at Southampton City Council, said: “One in three people with COVID-19 don’t have symptoms, so could spread the infection without realising it. That is why symptom-free testing is so important, and we can see from what’s happened in our schools that it can play a significant positive role in helping to curtail the spread of COVID-19 - not just among school pupils, but also among staff, parents, carers and loved ones in the wider community. I’d like to thank everyone who has taken part in the testing and urge them to continue their efforts to keep everyone safe.

“The benefits of symptom-free testing go well beyond what we’ve seen in schools. It’s also incredibly important for businesses, employers and for our collective efforts to bring about a return to greater normality. There are different options for regular rapid testing, so I’d encourage everyone living and working in Southampton to get tested regularly, and in doing so help prevent transmission and help to identify more cases quickly.”

Jim Henderson, Headteacher at Woodlands Community College, said: "Regular symptom-free testing in schools has had a real impact since our full return in March. It has not only given us the ability to identify asymptomatic cases quickly before any possible spread, but more importantly, it has given students, staff and parents the confidence they needed to return to school knowing everything possible was being done to keep us all safe. It needed exceptional staff in all schools to create testing centres in such a short time and I would like to thank the amazing team at Woodlands for their professionalism and dedication to our students."

James Habberley, Headteacher at Saint George Catholic College, said: "Asymptomatic Testing has given our students, staff and parents the additional confidence and reassurance we all needed as a school community to keep us all safe. We have been able identify a small of asymptomatic cases early, breaking the chain of transmission and stopping the potential negative impact it would have had on a larger number of pupils, their families and staff. We are all determined to keep our school communities safe and having an efficient and effective testing process has allowed our community to reconnect and focus on our students social and academic development once again."

Information about COVID-19 testing