PRIMARY AND SECONDARY schools reopened their doors to students in the last two weeks after the summer break.
Much has changed since their end – namely the dominance of the more transmissible Delta variant and skyrocketing vaccination rates.
As of Friday, 90% of adults were fully vaccinated against Covid-19, but there are still more than 1,000 people who test positive for Covid every day.
The incidence rate of the disease among young people has declined in recent days.
Thousands under the age of 18 have had to restrict their movements since schools reopened after becoming close contacts of a confirmed case.
Directors reported difficulties accessing HSE risk assessments and advice on Covid-19 cases and identifying close contacts.
Páiric Clerkin, CEO of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN), said The newspaper that managers were under “considerable pressure” to deal with cases that arose.
Data from the Health Protection Surveillance Center (HPSC) shows that 7,083 people aged 0 to 18 tested positive for Covid-19 between August 26 and September 8.
This represents about a third of all confirmed cases during this period. 4,570 cases involved people aged 12 and under.
The age group with the greatest number of cases during this 14-day period was 5 to 12 years old.
However, HSE public health specialist Dr Abbey Collins said the highest incidence rates of Covid-19 in children were during school holidays.
Before this year’s summer vacation, there were an average of 1,000 cases per week among 0-18 year olds, but that figure rose to between 3,500 and 4,000 per week when children were out of school.
Dr Collins said: ‘We saw the greatest number of children contracting Covid in January… in July and August, when the children were out of school.
She said that outside of schools, children are often only tested for the virus if a parent or family member has tested positive.
In schools, however, proactive testing and research is done when a positive case arises.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said on Wednesday that the incidence rate of Covid among young people “is dropping significantly”.
“We are seeing encouraging early signs that the infection rate is leveling off in school-aged children,” Dr Holohan said in a statement.
A note of appreciation to principals, teachers, staff, administrators, public health physicians, parents and students who have worked hard to make our schools as safe as possible and who look forward to a full return to in-person teaching. 1/15
– Professor Philip Nolan (@President_MU) August 30, 2021
The chair of the NPHET’s epidemiolocal modeling advisory group, Professor Philip Nolan, also said that there is “considerable evidence” that with mitigation measures in place, schools are “not major sites of transmission ”.
Professor Nolan said the Delta variant is more transmissible, but the transmission methods remain the same.
“It is reasonable to assume that the mitigation measures that have been effective against Alpha will also be effective against Delta, although they must be strictly observed and the situation monitored,” he said. Twitter.
He added that school openings and closings have had “minimal effect on the incidence in the general population.”
Students restrict their movements
Unvaccinated people who are considered close contacts of a person with Covid-19 are required to restrict their movements and be tested for Covid-19.
An HSE spokesperson said on Tuesday that around 12,000 students were restricting their movements after being considered close contact.
This estimate increased in the following days, but has since been pushed back until official figures are confirmed.
“Before the return from schools, there were around 4,000 cases per week among 0-18 year olds, many of these children will now also have been in a school setting and therefore have a significant impact on the schools’ testing processes,” said said a spokesperson for HSE. during the week.
However, a spokesperson said yesterday that “significant data” has yet to be finalized, so more details will be released next week.
The HSE clinical director said this week that evidence shows asymptomatic children are “very ineffective transmitters” of Covid-19.
Niamh O’Beirne, national HSE manager for testing and tracing, recently said schools would be “busy from a testing standpoint” throughout September.
“It is expected that there will be some degree of transmission in schools, but public health advice has remained the same and all measures are in place within schools,” she said. declared.
No need to restrict movement
Students who are fully vaccinated do not have to restrict their movements if they are close contacts, but vaccines are still only available to people aged 12 and over, so most elementary students do not. are currently not eligible for vaccination.
Those who are not fully vaccinated should get tested for Covid-19 and restrict their movement for 10 days if they become close contact.
They will be allowed to stop restricting their movements if they test negative for Covid-19 10 days after their last contact with the person who tested positive and they have no symptoms of the virus.
The HSE said it would contact any student considered close contact, but principals this week reported delays of several days in receiving risk assessments and advice from public health teams.
Páiric Clerkin, CEO of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN), said The newspaper Wednesday that there is a “very clear process in place for schools to follow” after being notified of a positive case among a student or staff member.
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“When this process is working well, it is usually completed within a few hours. But pressures arise because response times – they’re not measured in hours, but in days, ”he said.
Clerkin said the increase in the number of cases and the difficulty in accessing public health advice has created a “pinch point” for managers and put them under “considerable pressure.”
“They are making judgment calls without public health advice,” he said. “We hope this can be rectified as quickly as possible.
“It is still early in the reopening of schools and it is certainly under pressure right now and probably more under pressure than the system was last year.”
The education minister later said a school principal shouldn’t have to be able to pass public health judgment.
Speaking to RTÉ Radio’s News at One, HSE’s Dr Colm Henry said additional supports have been put in place to carry out risk assessments more quickly.
“We have allocated additional resources to these public health units starting today to try to make sure that we can catch up with any existing backlog and support the directors,” Dr Henry said.
He said the HSE maintains the policy for unvaccinated people, including students, to restrict their movements if they are close contacts.
Vaccinated people do not have to restrict their movement unless they show symptoms when, like everyone else, they must isolate themselves, contact a general practitioner and be referred for a PCR test if advised. .
Workers’ education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin this week called the management of the reopening of schools “chaotic”.
“Neither the ministry nor the HSE has engaged with schools that find themselves in the position of trying to clumsily attempt to manage contact tracing and avoid epidemics locally,” TD said.
“My office has been inundated with contacts from principals and other school communities up and down the country that have nothing to do with Covid. “
He said schools should have been better equipped with ventilation systems and smaller classrooms.
Social Democrats education spokesman Gary Gannon also said more adequate resources should have been put in place to support schools.
Instead, principals have been abandoned by the HSE and the Department of Education – many being forced to conduct contact tracing themselves while calls to the dedicated helpline remain. unanswered, “Gannon said in a statement.
Education Minister Norma Foley said her department continues to work with the HSE on the best public health advice.
“I absolutely understand how any out-of-school child, or out-of-school youth, for a period of time absolutely bothers the children and young people themselves, but also their families, so I am very aware of that,” Foley told the RTÉ radio.