Covid outbreaks: Primary teachers demand return of contact tracing and rethink on face masks for kids

Covid outbreaks: Primary teachers demand return of contact tracing and rethink on face masks for kids

The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) wants to see the re-introduction of testing and contact tracing and the expansion of the supply panel for substitute teachers to cover all primary and special schools. Picture: Larry Cummins

The principal of a primary school in Wexford has said that C02 monitors are not a sufficient measure to combat Covid-19 in schools and warned that HSE guidelines for schools are not strong enough to prevent transmission within classrooms and schools.

Vicky Barron of the CBS primary school said under HSE guidelines that asymptomatic children were allowed to go to school even if they were close contacts, however a number of children in her school were found to be positive despite not having any symptoms.

There were now 34 positive cases in the school, she said. In one class, 19 children tested positive for Covid.

The HSE say this is not a school outbreak, but then what is it? It didn't come out of the walls. Somebody brought it into the room.” 

It was obvious that there had been onward transmission within the classroom, she said.

There were 30 children in one room where there were problems with ventilation.

“We have been screaming that C02 monitors are not enough.” 

In the classroom in question, when the C02 monitors turned red the teacher brought the children out of the room, it was obvious that opening windows was not enough and that the room was not big enough for 30 children.

Ms Barron said that while the school building was closed remote classes were being delivered by teachers on learning platforms. Closing the building was the right call, she told RTÉ radio’s News at One.

“We’re just sorry we didn’t do it sooner.” 

The flaw in the HSE’s guidelines was children not being considered close contacts, she said.

When the number of children from the school testing positive began to rise last week, Ms Barron had filled out a contact tracing form, but she could not include some of the children as they would not be deemed as close contacts by the HSE under their guidelines.

Information from parents was key to establishing the extent of the Covid outbreak, she said.

"It is the parent body who have kept us informed and without their absolutely supportive and valuable contributions to us and the information they gave us and allowed us to share, we would not know the extent of the cases in our school."

The INTO is looking for a pilot scheme on antigen testing and a review on the age restriction on face coverings. Picture: Denis Minihane.
The INTO is looking for a pilot scheme on antigen testing and a review on the age restriction on face coverings. Picture: Denis Minihane.

In some cases it was not until parents took their (asymptomatic) children for private tests that the school became aware they were positive for the virus.

The school building will remain closed until after the midterm break which commences next Friday.

Special events for Halloween such as a dress up day will go ahead after the mid term break, said Ms Barron.

Now, a teachers' union is calling for public health supports for primary schools to be scaled up.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) wants to see the re-introduction of testing and contact tracing and the expansion of the supply panel for substitute teachers to cover all primary and special schools.

It is also looking for a pilot scheme on antigen testing and a review on the age restriction on face coverings.

The union raised concern that no weekly school mass testing report has been published since October 4.

"The failure to produce this report at a time when positive cases among 5 to 12-year-old children has remained consistently high has added to the level of concern and anxiety in school communities," it said.

Following reports from members that symptomatic children continue to attend schools, the INTO is calling for a public awareness campaign designed to ensure those with Covid-19 symptoms do not attend schools.

"Time and time again, public health leaders have told us what happens in the community happens in our schools," a statement from the union said.

"With concerns being raised about the spread of the virus in our communities, now is the time to raise our shield once more to protect our schools.

"It is not a sustainable position to expect our schools to operate as normal when infection levels in our communities continue to spiral."

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