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Details of Covid-19 antigen testing system in primary schools announced

The tests will be offered to close contacts in the same pod at first, and expanded if necessary.

The Education Minister Norma Foley has confirmed a new system of antigen testing in schools.
The Education Minister Norma Foley has confirmed a new system of antigen testing in schools.
Image: Julien Behal/RollingNews.ie

THE MINISTERS FOR Education and Health have announced details of how antigen testing in primary schools will work.

A joint statement from both Departments confirms details published in The Journal on Monday.

The antigen testing will concern asymptomatic close contacts, and the tests will be made available to children in a school pod where one of the group has returned a Covid-19 positive PCR test.

If there’s two or more cases confirmed within a classroom inside a seven-day period across multiple pods, the whole class will be offered antigen testing.

The HSE plans to have the system underway on or before November 29.

Parents and guardians are being asked to notify the school principal if their child returns a Covid-19 positive PCR test.

The principal will then inform other parents in the pod, but no personal details about the original positive case will be shared.

After this, parents will be offered free antigen tests for their child or children, which can be ordered and delivered to the home.

This isn’t mandatory though, and children do not need to take an antigen test.

Children who are in the same pod as a confirmed case can continue to go to school, whether they take the antigen test or not.

However they must not attend school if they’re experiencing symptoms.

If a child is displaying any of the symptoms on this list they must isolate and take a PCR test.

Union reaction

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), which represents primary school teachers, says it will examine the program closely.

A spokesperson for the INTO said “for eight months the government has procrastinated and failed to implement the recommendations of an expert group who proposed a pilot antigen study in primary schools.”

“As a union, we have been campaigning for the introduction of antigen testing since the premature withdrawal of testing and contact tracing from primary schools in September of this year.”

The union says it’s imperative that any schemes the Government brings in are properly resourced and kept under review.

It’s warned that infection levels are rising at an “alarming” rate in schools and a full suite of support is needed to tackle that.

The INTO called on the Government to launch a public awareness campaign designed to stop symptomatic people from attending school.

Finally, Fórsa, which represents school secretaries, caretakers and special needs assistants (SNAs) working in primary schools, said it’s a “long overdue step towards improving Covid protection in schools.”

The union’s head of education Andy Pike said: “We welcome the decision to provide antigen testing in primary schools. While this is not a full return to the previous contact tracing protocol, these new measures will increase protections for students and staff.”

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Testing information

Schools and parents are due to receive information about antigen testing early next week.

Principals will not be required to keep evidence of who takes the antigen tests and who does not.

Minister Stephen Donnelly said: “Antigen testing is an additional layer in our public health advice. I welcome this move today.”

However he stressed that anyone with symptoms must self-isolate at home and arrange a PCR test.

The Minister for Education Norma Foley added: “School communities continue to do exceptional work in minimising the spread of COVID-19.”

She added, “I welcome the HSE’s introduction of this choice for parents and children to undertake antigen testing where there is a known case of COVID-19 in a child’s pod.

Minister Foley has stressed that it is vital for everyone to follow advice when this new programme gets underway.

She has also encouraged parents to flag a positive case with the school principal without delay, to offer other parents speedy access to antigen testing.

Finally, Minister Foley appealed to the public to follow the public health advice “we know so well” in hand-washing, staying at home when symptomatic and reducing contacts.

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