Staff union says it is 'far too early' to relax test and trace in schools 

Staff union says it is 'far too early' to relax test and trace in schools 

The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) has called for caution and for the reopening of schools to be reviewed closer to the mid-term break. 

It is “far too early” to relax Covid test and tracing protocols in schools, according to the union representing special needs assistants (SNAs).

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is considering whether or not guidelines for close contacts in schools can be eased by the end of the month for children, and October for adults.

Fórsa trade union maintains there should be no change in the current approach in the absence of “clear data” demonstrating the transmission of the virus in schools has fallen to the levels experienced during the last school year.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) has also called for caution and for the reopening of schools to be reviewed closer to the mid-term break. 

Data published this week by the HSE shows that the positivity rate among close contacts identified in schools stands at approximately 4.5%. This compares to between 2% and 3% before the summer holidays. However, the figure of 4.5% does not take into account the "significant testing that was undertaken through self-booked tests", according to the HSE.

School outbreaks

Since the beginning of the school year, there have been 57 school outbreaks, involving 278 linked confirmed cases. However, this also may be an "under-estimate" as the HSE continues to be affected by the cyberattack last May.

As the data is incomplete, caution needs to be exercised prior to and during any relaxation of the existing safety measures, according to Andy Pike, head of education at Fórsa. School staff also believe that the Delta variant could pose additional challenges for schools.

“It is too early to draw any conclusions on relaxing protections. We will need to be certain that the measures in place will effectively prevent wide-scale transmission before deciding that they are no longer needed,” he said.

NPHET recognises the need for caution, and it is likely to support the maintenance of exiting restrictions in movements for asymptomatic students in special education or with underlying medical conditions, he added. 

However, approximately two-thirds of students with additional care needs are studying in a mainstream class where restrictions would be removed under the new guidance. 

"We could not support such a policy until there is clear evidence that this approach of relaxation would not increase transmission. 

“We acknowledge that working parents and employers are experiencing difficulties because of the large number of students currently required to restrict their movements, but policy must be based on clinical evidence rather than business interests." 

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