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New cough, stay at home. Runny nose, attend school: HSE releases new advice for parents

The advice notes that: “Every year, schoolchildren get colds, flu and other infections”.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin visits Nagle Secondary Community College in Cork.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin visits Nagle Secondary Community College in Cork.
Image: Julien Behal/RollingNews.ie

THE HSE and the Department of Health has released advice to parents about when children should be kept home from school and when they can attend.

The guidance is being published ahead of the return of schools this week and next week amid a much-change landscape due to Covid-19.

Parents had previously been advised that children should not attend school if they or any members of their household had symptoms of the coronavirus. Further details this had been promised for the past month.

The HSE has now published specific guidelines on when children should be kept at home, stating for example that “a new cough” is grounds to keep them at home while “a runny nose or a sneeze” is usually okay.

The advice notes that “every year, schoolchildren get colds, flu and other infections” and that there are specific symptoms that must be spotted.

The pamphlet adds: “Most of the time, you do not need to phone your GP if a runny nose or sneezing are your child’s only symptoms. Talk to your pharmacist instead.”

The advice lists four scenarios where a child should not be sent to school. They are when a child has:

  • A temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or more
  • Any other common symptoms of coronavirus such as a new cough, loss or changed sense of taste or smell, or shortness of breath
  • Been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus
  • Been living with someone who is unwell and may have coronavirus

If any of these situations are present, parents will need to:

1. Isolate your child. This means keeping them at home and completely avoiding contact with other people. as much as possible. Your child should only leave your home to have a test or to see your GP.
2. Phone your GP. They will advise you if your child needs a coronavirus test.
3. Everyone that your child lives with should also restrict their movements, at least until your child gets a diagnosis from their GP or a coronavirus test result. This means not going to school, childcare or work.
4. Treat your child at home for their symptoms.

On the contrary, the guidance also outline situations where it is “usually ok” to send a child or children to school or to childcare

The are when a child:

  • Only has nasal symptoms, such as a runny nose or a sneeze.
  • Does not have a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or more (as long as their temperature has not been lowered by taking any form of paracetamol or ibuprofen)
  • Does not have a cough
  • Have not been in close contact with anyone who has coronavirus
  • Do not live with anyone who is unwell and may have coronavirus
  • Have been told by a GP that their illness is caused by something else that is not coronavirus. Your GP will tell you when they can return to school or childcare.
  • Have got a negative (‘not detected’) coronavirus test result and have not had symptoms for 48 hours

Speaking at a Department of Health briefing this evening, Dr Mary Favier of the Irish College General Practitioners (ICGP) said that if a child is “otherwise well” but “just constantly sniffles and sneezes all the time they can go to school”.

But what do you do then with a child who has a bit more than that? That’s where you need to start to pay attention. It’s reasonable for a child to go to bed with a slight runny nose at night and to say I’ll see how they are in the morning. But if they are in any way unwell they should not go school. 

“I know speaking as a parent, we all did this a little bit in the past, saying they’re not too bad, they don’t particularly have a temperature, we see how they go during the day. Well, that’s not okay now. So, while we’re back to school, as usual, it’s not normal.

“So, for most parents it’s about saying any child who has a temperature shouldn’t go to school. Any child who has a cough shouldn’t go school. Any child who has any of the symptoms that might actually suggest Covid, which would for instance be when an older child tells you that their taste isn’t usual or they feel unwell. Generally a child who is feeling unwell should stay at home for a 48 hours until after the symptoms settle.”

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Rónán Duffy

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