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Around 70 schools have had in-school Covid-19 transmission

The HSE has said 599 schools have required a public health assessment and testing.

THE HSE HAS again reiterated that there has been a low level of Covid-19 transmission in schools with fewer than five asked to close due to outbreaks since their reopening.

Speaking at a HSE briefing earlier today public health consultant Dr Abigail Collins said 599 facilities – primary, post primary and special needs schools – have required a public health assessment and testing. 

More than 15,000 students and teachers have been tested with 384 cases identified and an overall positivity rate of 2.5%. The majority of close contacts who are tested (86%) are students while 14% are staff.

Dr Collins said public health departments have identified around 70 schools in which they suspect there was transmission within the school. In most cases, she said a link is identified in the community.

“When we find and identify cases and we look at their close contacts we can find people in their families are asymptomatic or have other sources of infection,” she said.

The average number of onward cases where there is in-school transmission is three, but she said it is “very unusual” to have a higher number than that. Dr Collins said this was in contrast to the experience in other settings such as nursing homes where transmission  can reach very high levels.

She said it is a “difficult judgement” to make whether a person picked up the infection in a school as the students and teachers are still “part of their communities”.  

“If you know that there’s a friendship group for example who were socialising out of school how do you say it was because they were sitting at the desk together and how do you say it wasn’t because they were watching a movie together?

“It’s important to bear it in mind in that context, it’s not a black and white, it’s not ticking boxes.”

Fewer than five schools have been told to close due to Covid-19 cases among students and staff, she said.

The number of school-aged children who have tested positive for Covid-19 is “relatively stable”, increasing slightly from 14.5% of cases in August before the schools reopened to 15.6% of cases in October.

Dr Collins said the data collected by public health teams is “reassuring” and has shown “schools are safe places for our children to be”.

However she said as case positivity in the community has increased, the number of cases in the school settings has increased. 

“We have to make sure that we don’t deny children the opportunity of their education, of the emotional and social development and wellbeing because it’s so important,” Dr Collins said.

“It is a real population level interdependence and if we can all do our bit in society that will keep our schools safe and open.”

Threat of industrial action

Today Taoiseach Micheál Martin said school will re-open on Monday as planned. His comments came after the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) voted to take industrial action unless the government addresses several issues related to Covid-19 in schools.

Among the issues teachers have raised include the redefining of close contacts in schools and the introducing a serial testing programme.

Teachers voted in favour of taking industrial action, up to and including strike action.

Martin said today that he “doesn’t detect that many teachers want to go down that route”.

“Many friends of mine are teachers, I keep in regular touch with them to get a sense of what it’s like, how they’re coping. They want to be in school, they really get the importance of it for the children’s development,” he said.

The Taoiseach acknowledged that the current environment for teachers is “challenging” and that Covid-19 has meant “a different type of learning” for teachers.

“It’s a different type of education, the classroom is a much different place for the children and for the teachers. And therefore it’s not easy, and I don’t underestimate the impact,” he said.

The Taoiseach also said that after this week’s mid-term break “school teams” will be established to see if there are specific areas that could be improved upon.

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