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Close contact tracing conducted in over 100 schools last week as cases in young people rise

The positivity rate after mass testing in schools last week was 2.4%.

Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

CLOSE CONTACTS WERE tested in 108 schools around the country last week due to the presence of Covid-19.

Close contact testing is carried out in education facilities after a Department of Public Health is notified of a confirmed case in someone who attended the school during the infectious period.

Between 7 and 13 March, students or staff were tested in 65 primary, 37 secondary, and six special education schools.

Of 1,842 people tested in schools as close contacts, 44 positive cases of Covid-19 were detected – 34 in primary schools, seven in post-primary schools, and the remainder in special education schools.

The positivity rate was 2.4% on average, an increase from 2% during the first month (8 February to 6 March) of the phased reopening of schools.

However, the positivity rate in each school type – 2.8% in primary schools, 1.4% in secondary schools, and 2.5% in special education schools – remained lower than the average community positivity rate of 3.8%.

Most of the close contacts tested who were diagnosed with Covid-19 – 39 of 44 – were aged 19 or under.

In childcare, mass testing was carried out of 551 people in 35 facilities, with 62 cases detected as a result – an 11.3% positivity rate.

12 of those cases were in adults over 20, while 50 were between the ages of 0 and 19.

Schools testing week 10 Source: HSE

After a limited return of special education in February, a wider resumption of in-person classes came in for 320,000 students in certain year groups at the start of this month.

Half of primary school students – junior infants, senior infants, first class and second class – and Leaving Certificate students returned to school on 1 March for the first time since Christmas.

Other primary schools classes and fifth year students returned to class yesterday, and remaining secondary school year groups are due to return on 12 April after the Easter break.

Public health experts have noted a rise in Covid-19 cases among younger age groups, but say that it is not attributed to the reopening of schools.

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At the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) briefing yesterday evening, Professor Phillip Nolan said that “very few” cases being recorded among young people are associated with outbreaks in schools.

“Most of them are occurring in the community or in household settings,” Professor Nolan said.

“For instance, in children aged 5 to 12 years in the week before last, we saw 390 cases, with fewer than five associated with outbreaks in school settings,” he said.

“Only a minority of cases are being picked up in outbreaks in schools. The majority are being picked up in household, family and community settings.”

Professor Nolan said the rise in social mixing more broadly that has been observed around the same times as schools reopening is the key factor in the increase of cases among young people.

“It’s that kind of mixing that’s happening at the same time as schools have reopened that’s introducing the disease back into households,” he said.

“There’s no evidence that there’s a direct linkage between the opening of schools and any increase in disease in young people. The much stronger evidence is that it’s increased socialisation at the same time the schools have reopened.”

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