School told maskless students were not close contacts with SNA despite 'intimate care level'

School told maskless students were not close contacts with SNA despite 'intimate care level'

The school was told that due to compliance with social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines, there was “zero risk of transmission”.

Vulnerable students in class with a special needs assistant (SNA) who tested positive for Covid-19 were not deemed close contacts by the HSE, even though they were not wearing masks.

The SNA at a Cork secondary school tested positive two weeks ago, but had been teaching the week prior to contracting the virus.

She contacted the principal of the school last Sunday week. On the Monday, the principal, following the guidelines, made the HSE aware of the positive case. Other staff at the school were also informed. However, when there was no call back from contact tracers, the principal contacted the HSE again that afternoon.

The school was told that due to compliance with social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines, there was “zero risk of transmission”.

Even when the HSE was told that the vulnerable students in the class were not wearing masks, they were still not deemed to be close contacts. The SNA in question was wearing a mask.

One staff member who contacted the Irish Examiner said given the students were not wearing masks and the intimate care they need, it "beggars belief" that they were not considered as close contacts.

"An SNA who is positive worked side by side, hand-feeding, and toileting, at an intimate care level with some of these students," the staff member said. 

"Even when we told the HSE they didn't wear masks, they said they're not close contacts.

My biggest concern is the students. It's deeply worrying, I've agonised over even talking about it.

"My concern is if this is replicated, it will end in disaster. There's something not adding up. I'm trying to protect the most vulnerable.”

Under the guidelines, the school could not make any of the parents aware of the positive case. 

However, when it became known locally that a staff member at the school had tested positive, a number of the parents had their children tested privately.

The staff member who contacted the Irish Examiner said it seems unethical that schools are not allowed to inform parents of a positive case. 

"How can we not tell parents that someone who works with their child has Covid? It breaks my sense of ethics," the staff member said.

An ASTI spokesperson said: "While we do not comment on individual cases and individual schools, we have had concerns expressed to us in relation to students who have not required masks and why guidelines are not different in relation to these students.

"We are also concerned about the extent of contact tracing in relation to cases in schools and the time taken for this contact tracing."

In a statement, the HSE said: "It is important to note that controlled school/work settings may have fewer close contacts identified because of the nature of compliance with social distancing, hand hygiene etc. compared to social contacts/settings.

"In any instance where a case of Covid-19 is linked to an educational facility, public health professionals speak directly with the person, or family as appropriate, and ask them about their contacts.

"Children who are not identified as a close contact do not need a test, and can continue to attend school. Likewise with staff."

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