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COVID-19: Thousands of students in Ireland will have to study at home

DUBLIN: More than thousand children have been compelled to stay back at their homes, after having been identified as close contacts of people infected with COVID-19. These details of interruption among school pupils appeared today. But there are no indications of classroom outbreaks. 

It is highly probable that the children, who contracted COVID early in the new term, might have picked it up from the community rather than their schools. It will take a longer time to assess if the spread happened in the classrooms. Head of testing and tracing in the HSE, Niamh O‘Beirne revealed that positive cases were found in 700 primary schools and 500 secondary schools. Almost 12,000 children have been identified as close contacts. Under health care terms they have to restrict movement and confine themselves to homes.  

On an average, it has been calculated that 15 close contacts of confirmed cases in primary schools and three in secondary schools happen. These children have to restrict their movements for 10 days. After this period they are tested for COVID and if found negative, they can return to schools. If the parents don’t consent to testing their children, they must stay in home for two weeks. 

But there is exemption for children above 12 years and are fully vaccinated. They are not obliged to stay home even when they come in close contact.  The HSE’s delay in forwarding excel sheets containing information about children with close contact, has been criticised by school principals. For instance, in a school where a child tested positive on Thursday, were waiting till last weekend for the detailed contact sheets with addresses. Other children could be referred for testing only upon the completion of this list and it has to be agreed. 

Ms O’Beirne says that all these children would be individually identified by public health teams who risk-asses the schools. The parents also will be informed that they were close contacts and needed to stay home. HSE has assigned a new administrative team to handle the excel sheets. The volume of details is large and needs to be checked multiple times to ensure accuracy.

Children would be tested on day three or four. But no change would not be there on the number of days they would have to limit movements. This was said in acknowledgement of the parents’ concern about having to wait days to be informed about testing. 

The administration team in charge of this has been boosted with 80 staff. Their duty will be during weekends from 8 am to 11 pm. The majority of children referred for testing belong to the below 14 age group and the test positivity rate is 9%. The system reached its capacity yesterday when 20,000 test referrals were given. Though students in certain third level colleges have returned yesterday, Ms O’Beirne says that a lesser infection level is expected in this age group as a considerable portion of them is fully vaccinated.

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