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Teachers warn of severe disruption to schools already as they call for fast-track access to testing

The government has emphasised the importance of keeping schools open in its new plan for living with Covid-19.

TEACHERS ARE ASKING to be given guaranteed timeframes on Covid-19 testing amid concerns that delays in accessing testing is already causing “severe disruption” in some schools around the country. 

The situation is “not sustainable” and will worsen in the coming weeks and months unless action is taken to address delays in testing according to the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI).

The union wants teachers and other school staff to have a guaranteed test on the day they first experience Covid-19 symptoms, with an additional guarantee of a test result within 24 hours.

Public health officials and the government have said the country has capacity for 100,000 tests a week. This capacity has been utilised to focus on serial testing in nursing homes, meat factories and Direct Provision centres.

Based on case definition, carrying out 100,000 tests per week is not required at present, the HSE has said.

Last week, 77,000 tests were carried out but the reopening of schools has placed further pressure on our Test & Trace system which could come under strain as flu season approaches. 

Throughout the new five level approach to living with Covid-19 for the medium term that was announced by the government earlier this week, a clear priority is placed on keeping schools open.

This is the case even if the situation with the virus was to worsen considerably. 

Teachers say that further resources are needed on an ongoing basis to make sure that schools can stay open. This includes more rapid access to testing to prevent absenteeism.

Speaking to, TUI general secretary Michael Gillespie said that the union is hearing of a sharp disparity in the turnaround time from getting a test and then a result across the country. 

He said: “In Dublin, we’ve had reports of people having symptoms at 9am, getting a swab at 10am and the results the next day. That’s the fastest.

At the other end of that in other parts of the country, we’re hearing that some are waiting two-to-three days for a swab and then maybe the same time again for their result.

Gillespie said that if a teacher is left waiting they cannot go to work, and it means students who have already lost many months of being in school earlier this year are missing out again. 

“Teachers want to catch them up,” he said. “Our teachers are very loyal to their students but they also want to obey the health rules.”

The TUI has previously called for rapid testing for teachers and other school staff, including at a recent sitting of the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 response, but have so far not been provided with any such guarantees. 

“Teachers and other school staff must have guaranteed access to a test on the day that they first experience possible Covid-19 symptoms, with a guarantee of a result of the test within a maximum of 24 hours,” Gillespie said.

We are hearing that, in too many cases, teachers and other school staff are waiting days for both. This is not sustainable if schools are to remain open. Given traditional trends in terms of colds and flu over the winter months and the additional burden that will be put on any testing regime, it is certain that the problems we are seeing now will greatly worsen unless a robust testing system is put in place.

An additional problem being faced by schools in this regard is the “extreme difficulty” many principals are experiencing in recruiting substitute teachers. 

“When appropriate substitute cover is not available, students experience a diminished education service,” Gillespie said. 

He added that introducing such testing would be a cost-saving measure as it would prevent schools having to recruit substitute teachers to cover absences and would give schools “a fighting chance” heading into the winter. 

“We’re all co-operating with what’s expected of us,” the TUI general secretary said. “We absolutely don’t want to see a scenario where a school is closed because of the number of teachers having to be absent.”

At yesterday’s HSE briefing, public health officials said that when an outbreak is identified at a school testing is prioritised. Each week, there is capacity for 3,000 rapid tests but that wouldn’t be enough to cover all schools, officials said. 

A HSE spokesperson told “When a case of Covid-19 is identified which is associated to an educational facility, public health professionals engages directly with the person, or family as appropriate, and asks them about their contacts.

“Public health professionals will also discuss the matter directly with the educational facility if deemed necessary, undertaking a public health risk assessment. Recommended measures, including any exclusions of other pupils or staff members, are made at this point. Responses and recommendations for each facility may well differ, depending on the circumstances identified by public health.”

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