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832 outbreaks of Covid-19 in schools since last August, HSE reports

More than 46,000 Covid-19 cases have been recorded in children and teenagers up to July.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

THE HSE RECORDED 832 outbreaks of Covid-19 in schools since they reopened in August 2020.

Between March 2020 and July 2021, there were more than 46,000 Covid-19 cases in children from infancy to 18-years-old – 4% of all children and 17% of confirmed cases overall.

A new HSE review of data from the academic year outlines that 3,655 cases were linked to outbreaks in schools.

Looking at outbreaks record up until the cyberattack on the HSE in May, they ranged in size from zero to 79 linked cases. 92% of the outbreaks involved fewer than ten linked cases and 34% saw only two linked cases.

“Outbreaks occurred, but were usually of small scale (2-3 subsequent cases) with usually friendship groups testing positive amongst both pupils and staff,” the report said.

Transmission from students to adults was “unusual”.

“Adult to adult, adult to child or child to child transmission were all more commonly seen than student to adult transmission.”

Cases where an adult transmitted the virus to a child were more common when a child was receiving extra assistance, “highlighting the importance of all other mitigation measures when physical distance is not able to be maintained”.

It recommends that education for children should be a high priority with “minimum unnecessary interruptions”.

“The evidence shows that educational facilities can be low-risk settings for Covid19 with the clear focussed attention to the exclusion of those with symptoms consistent with Covid-19, mitigating measures in place and infection, prevention and control measures as laid out in the national recommendations,” the report said.

More than two-thirds (69%) of secondary schools needed a public health risk assessment to investigate onward transmission and close contacts, as well as 38% of primary schools and 57% of special education facilities.

During the year, 18 schools were asked to exclude all staff and students and undertake testing.

Coming into the summer, 39 cases were identified among Leaving Cert students between the end of classes and the end of exams.

The cases led to 21 students missing some of their exams while they were isolating.

Additionally, 41 Leaving Cert students were closed contacts, including 14 were missed some exams as they were required to restrict their movements.

The report identified that “staffing resilience was a problem for some schools, particularly earlier on in the academic year”.

“Clear attention to ‘pods’ for staffing and resilient rosters should be given to minimise the numbers of close contacts which may be identified amongst staff from interactions outside the classroom.”

Schools are preparing now for the return to classrooms next week amid concerns over the impact of the highly-transmissible Delta variant.

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Speaking on Newstalk, one of the authors of the report said that “despite the peaks and troughs”, schools with proper mitigation measures “remained low-risk environments for staff and students”.

Dr Abigail Collins, a Consultant in Public Health Medicine, said that outbreaks had “by and large” around two to four linked cases.

“They were small and tended to be among friendship groups,” Dr Collins said.

“There’s nothing that we’ve seen over the last academic year nor in summer in the context of Delta with childcare facilities that would change that recommendation [to reopen schools],” she said.

A plan for the next stage of easing of Covid-19 restrictions is set to be published at the end of the month.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is due to meet on Wednesday followed by a Cabinet Covid-19 subcommittee meeting on Friday.

Entertainment, work, and education – particularly third level – are expected to feature heavily on the agenda.

About the author:

Lauren Boland

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