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Exercise and eat healthily: Covid-19 guidance to SNAs raises questions

The new guidance comes weeks after staff and pupils have returned to school.

Image: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

EXERCISE, EAT WELL and avoid smoke – these recommendations are among the advice issued to school staff to keep them safe from Covid-19.

The new guidance, published yesterday, comes weeks after staff and pupils have returned to school.

In the guidance, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre tells special needs assistants (SNAs) that “it is likely that Covid-19 infection will impact on some pupils and SNAs during the coming school year as a result of infection acquired in everyday life or in the workplace”.

“The likelihood of suffering serious harm as a result of Covid-19 infection depends on the age and general health of the person when they became infected and on access to healthcare if they need it.”

Part of the solution, the advice says, is to “maintain a healthy lifestyle” by exercising, eating well and “avoiding smoke”.

The guidance also advises SNAs that taking “good care” of “existing medical conditions” improves the likelihood of making a good recovery from Covid-19.

Andy Pike, Head of Education at trade union Fórsa, said: “There are lots of elements of the advice that would make you scratch your head.”

“I don’t think those who wrote it know what SNAs do,” he said. “It is a very strange way to word general health advice.”

“That’s not only true for SNAs but true for the general public,” he added of the guidance.

Trade unions have expressed concern in recent weeks that SNAs, especially those with underlying health conditions, may face a severe risk while working in schools.

Pike was critical of the fact that this guidance was issued over a month since schools reopened.

He said that the Department of Education had failed to recognise that SNAs could not do their job while also remaining socially distanced from pupils.

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Until now, no specific guidance had been issued for SNAs about how to safely work with pupils to prevent the spread of the virus.

The new guidance states that when “SNAs are within 2m of a pupil and performing healthcare-like tasks (personal care) the face covering should normally be a surgical mask. If a surgical mask is not practical for any reason, they should use a visor or a quality suitable for use in a healthcare setting”.

The guidelines also stress that SNAs should work with the “smallest number of pupils that is practical”and also suggests providing staff with “personal pocket size dispensers of alcohol hand gel”.

Pike welcomed the “belated” issuing of guidance, especially on the use of surgical masks. He said that staff had complained that schools had failed to provide adequate PPE to keep them safe.

“We hope this will mean there is no school in the country that can use the excuse that they didn’t know,” he said.

The HSE has been contacted for a response.

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