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INTO calls for immediate reintroduction of student Covid testing as school closes after outbreak

Vicky Barron said that it is clear that there are “serious flaws” in the guidance.

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Updated Oct 18th 2021, 5:51 PM

THE IRISH NATIONAL Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) has called for the immediate reintroduction of school testing and contact tracing following the closure of a school in Wexford following an outbreak of the disease. 

The INTO said it is calling into question the premature cessation of public-health risk assessments, testing and contact tracing in primary schools.

This change in policy last month, which was challenged by the INTO, was informed by a view at the time that further relaxation of public-health measures was on the cards.

That is now “far from clear with Dr Ronan Glynn and other leading public health experts openly raising alarm in recent days”, the INTO said in a statement this evening. 

The union today called for: 

  • The immediate reintroduction of public-health risk assessments, testing and contact tracing in primary schools.
  • The expansion of the supply panel scheme to cover all primary and special schools.
  • The reinstatement of substitute sequencing, including banked days for children with additional needs.
  • The commencement of the school’s pilot scheme for antigen testing, recommended in April 2021.
  • An urgent review of the age restriction on the use of face coverings.
  • A meeting with the Department of Education and education stakeholders to discuss the supports needed.

Earlier today, the principal of a primary school in Wexford that was forced to close due to an outbreak of Covid-19 cases has said that HSE guidance for schools are not sufficient to prevent transmission. 

CBS Primary School in Wexford Town will remain closed until after the mid-term break after 30 Covid cases were detected there last week, while teachers will now deliver online learning to students. 

Speaking on News at One, Vicky Barron said that the school had decided to take this measure “as a vital health and safety precaution for all”. 

Barron said the school first became aware of a positive Covid case in one of its classes on 8 October. By 12 October, all children in the class were designated as close contacts by the HSE and sent for testing.

However, their siblings were not deemed as close contacts and were advised to continue to attend school.

“On Tuesday, I was sent a contact tracing form and I was asked not to include the children who were already positive on that form, so the children’s names that went to the HSE as part of the school’s referral template are significantly less than the children that went privately for testing,” she said. 

Barron said that as the week progressed, there were 19 positive cases in the class and a number of siblings of those students subsequently tested positive.

She said there are now 34 confirmed cases among the school community as of this morning. 

Under changes made to the rules last month, children who are close contacts of confirmed Covid-19 cases in primary schools are no longer required to self-isolate if they show no symptoms of the virus. 

Barron was criticial of the guidance currently in place. 

“It is very clear that that are serious flaws in the HSE Guidance regarding protecting children in schools and the board of management has decided, in the interest for the health and safety of all our pupils and their families to implement these emergency measures,” she said. 

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Barron also said that the school has problems with ventilation and that the CO2 monitors are “not good enough”.

“We have 30 children in that second class, we have problems with our ventilation, and we’ve been screaming to the high heavens that CO2 monitors are not good enough.”

She said that when the CO2 monitors turned red in one classroom, the teacher brought the children out of the room, and it was obvious that opening windows was not enough and that the room was not big enough for 30 children.

“Opening windows does not deal with this. Somebody brought it into the room but what has happened is the onward transmission that has occurred is obvious.”

She added that the school’s Board of Management “made the right call to keep everyone safe” and is sorry it did not close sooner.

With reporting by Garreth MacNamee

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