What HCPs Think about schools reopening

In our latest article in the What HCPs Think series, CREATION.co’s Jamie Doggett analyses the social media activity of doctors to determine their views on how schools should operate during COVID-19.

When and how schools should return was a big question for the UK during summer, and one that is continuing to go on.

A modelling study released in the Lancet, concluded that the best strategy for schools to prevent a second wave required the “large-scale, population-wide testing of symptomatic individuals and effective tracing of their contacts, followed by isolation of diagnosed individuals”.

The use of social media has increased for healthcare professionals (HCPs) during the pandemic as they seek to learn, give opinions and share resources and guidelines. By analysing the unprompted conversations of HCPs on public social media, it can give us a clearer understanding on their views about schools reopening.

Differentiating common cold symptoms

When publishing a social media post, many HCPs add links to stories they wish to share or discuss. The most shared link by HCPs related to the reopening of schools was a resource from The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health website. The page provided a summary of current policy and other guidance. 134 healthcare professionals shared this summary comparing and contrasting common cold and COVID-19 symptoms. HCPs were seeking to show their peers and the public the advice on when children should get tested.

A key voice of influence in the UK HCP conversation was Devi Lalita Sridhar, a Professor and Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh. Her Twitter account was highly retweeted by HCP peers, on topics linked to school openings. In one post she added her thoughts on the importance of testing as she called for a high bar in availability and turnaround time for testing in order for school returns to be viable.

Various emotions discussed by UK HCPs

Being sure that the UK’s testing infrastructure was prepared for the return to school was a common point in HCP conversation. Other concerns emerged leading up to the first day back.

Emotions discussed by HCPs relating to UK schools reopening during COVID-19

HCPs discussed various emotions relating to school returns, from general worries to panic – but there was also hope. Dr Matthew Snape, writing for the Guardian, published an article broadcasting this hope entitled “There is now clear data on Covid-19 and children: it should be safe to reopen English schools”.

HCPs weigh up the pros and cons of reopening schools

Following Dr Snape’s piece supporting the reopening of schools, Professor Chris Whitty, on behalf of the government, said “missing school is worse for children than the virus”. The BBC article with a video of Whitty’s advice was the most shared news story (40 shares) by UK HCPs relating to the schools. The idea that missing lessons “damages children in the long run” being a bigger factor than the “incredibly small… chances of children dying from COVID-19” was met with mixed feelings from HCPs.

Sarah Jane Kipps, a London-based nurse, emphasised the role school nurses will play during the reopening and was extremely positive about starting her specialist community public health nursing course.

A little more caution was demonstrated by Chris Roseveare, a consultant physician in Hampshire, who, while not doubting Witty’s statement speculated on the possibility of a spike of infections and warned hospitals should prepare for such an eventuality.

HCPs have discussed many benefits that opening schools, colleges and universities will bring but have also raised concerns, especially connected to safety. The two safety aspects that were most actively discussed were the wearing of masks and how social distancing would be maintained.

Topics of HCP online conversations relating to UK schools reopening during COVID-19

A Public Health registrar in Birmingham argued that evidence shows there is no harm in wearing face masks so “Why would you not support mask wearing [in schools] if it might save a child’s life”? But others responded they were yet to be “convinced of the benefits of masks”. Key issues such as masks are still dividing HCP and public opinion, but on open social media channels HCPs are sharing what scientific evidence they can with each other globally to address the unknowns.

HCP influencers share educational resources

The most active UK HCP was Sharon White, the CEO of the School & Public Health Nurses Association. She often looked to use her online influence to share resources including infographics, webinars and advice from organisations. Sharing resources to help prepare the general public, especially parents and carers, was a common behaviour among HCPs.

Another key resource that resonated with HCPs (shared 44 times) was the Going back to school guide published on the Children’s Commissioner website. This guide was designed for children to inform them about the possible changes when going back to school and gave advice for those who are worried or nervous.

Most pupils return to school

Initial figures indicated that 88% of pupils returned for the start of term – lower than previous years. However, the evidence is not conclusive as to whether this was due to COVID-19 outbreaks or fears. As children and teachers return to school there has been an increase in demand for tests, COVID-19 cases and the R number. HCPs continue to share their best advice using public social media, playing an important part in supporting the public, and their peers, to see an eventual end to the disease.

About the author

Jamie DoggettAs head of insight with CREATION.co, Jamie Doggett leads a team that discovers what healthcare professionals think by analysing their online social media conversations. Jamie has collaborated with healthcare professionals, marketers and communicators to leverage data for health strategy, and has pioneered new research methodologies using CREATION.co’s global dataset. Research produced by Jamie and his team has informed academic articles, health policy, and product launches all over the world.