At the start of this week 12,000 children were out of school because they were close contacts of Covid-19 cases. We asked parents to tell us about what the stop-start return to school had been like for them and their children. This is what they told us
"Our main annoyance is the ridiculously long quarantine before a second test can be taken"
Our 10-year-old son was deemed a close contact in his primary school last Wednesday so was sent home, along with his classmates in the same bubble. The school are very good in the follow-up, and setting up a one-hour daily Zoom class. Neither my wife or I could take time off work to mind him, nor were his relations able. So we had to leave him at home on his own from 9am to 12pm.
Our main annoyance is the ridiculously long 10-day quarantine before a second test can be taken. Logistically, that amounts to at least two weeks off work. In contrast, my brother lives in Edinburgh. His wife tested positive last week, and he and his two kids, aged six and nine, tested negative. His wife remains in isolation, but he was immediately allowed to return to work, and his two daughters allowed to immediately return to school. They live in the same house! – Eoin Fitzgerald, Kilmallock, Co Limerick
"It is the children who are bearing the brunt of our heavy-handed approach to Covid tracing"
Our child was sent home from school on day three of term as a close contact. This was very frustrating, as we know she was not sick and the vast majority of children are asymptomatic. The test dates provided also appeared to be four and 13 days from the last contact (not the standard one and 10 days). The principal robustly defended the dates as being set by the HSE following an inspection.
Many parents wanted to complete the second test early, in order for their children to be approved to return to school the next day. However, this urgency was not matched by the HSE, as parents were informed that all samples were only being sent for analysis at 6pm and that it would be 24-48 hours before results would be returned.
In addition, the principal – amazingly, I think – said she could not accept any early negative-verified children back to school the next day anyway, for logistical reasons – meaning, I assume, that all the class would have to be present. Even more amazingly, she seems to have refused to accept the return of two children who were not close contacts (as they were away on holidays at the time) until the rest of the class returned.
Unfortunately, it is the children who are bearing the brunt of this heavy-handed approach to Covid tracing, given that mandatory isolation also extends to their social interaction outside of school. Neither Nphet nor the Government appears inclined to deviate from this belt-and-braces approach that has produced largely the same results as in countries with less restrictive measures. It conforms to my belief that we are, sadly, living in a very conservative country. – Paul Richardson
"Primary schools might as well just close their doors now and give up"
On Monday morning one of our three primary-age children woke up with a runny nose and sore throat. Walk-in Covid testing has been discontinued, and no test slots were available for booking that day. As I write, on Tuesday, she has just left with her mum to get her test. If we are lucky we might get results on Wednesday, but based on previous experience they probably won't arrive until Thursday.
Following the guidelines, my wife and I (both fully vaccinated) can continue as normal, but our three children, who are all under 12, must be kept at home until we receive a negative test result – in which case they will, between them, have missed 12 days of school needlessly. Knowing how things are, it will be only a matter of a few days before the other two start showing symptoms of whatever the first one has.
Do we keep them all off again until they have negative tests too? It is only week three of the term. Is this what the rest of the year is going to be like? If every runny nose is going to lead to whole families of children missing classes for a week, then primary schools might as well just close their doors now and give up. If testing had been available the morning symptoms arose, and results obtained the next day, the amount of school missed could have been halved.
Given that small children ordinarily develop the symptoms of colds very frequently, should walk-in or priority testing remain available for children below the vaccination age, to minimise delays for this group and the resulting knock-on disruption to families and schools? Alternatively, as children suffer very mild symptoms and virtually all adults are vaccinated, should the guidelines be changed to allow symptom-free close contacts to go to school regardless? – John Thompson, Dublin
"The pandemic is ending for the rest of us, but we are passing pandemic panic on to the schoolchildren"
Our two primary-age kids are out of school at the moment. They have cold symptoms and need to get tests. Our eldest had a negative test last week. Our youngest is waiting on results. So the waiting on test results for both has kept them at home for days, and the cold symptoms have kept them out, too. There had been some cases in the school, and general worry in the school about them is now affecting the kids. Any issue at all mentioned, such as a slight tummy ache or a sniffle, and the teachers are sending kids home until they get a Covid test.
There's a lot of talk around the school about keeping on high alert and about asymptomatic infections. I think we're overdoing this. The pandemic is ending for the rest of us, but we are passing pandemic panic on to the schoolchildren. This is not fair. Keep kids out of school if they're symptomatic. Other than that, let them continue. I don't think we need to keep testing them. It's too much for them. – Paul Davis
"Our family appreciates the risks posed by Covid, but with the very high level of vaccination the risk analysis must shift too"
My children's education has been hugely disrupted since schools "reopened" in the spring. They have been out of primary school for nearly a month. This has impacted on their progress at school, their behaviour, their social skills and their wellbeing and is layered on top of all the other stresses that Covid has caused. Any extracurricular activities were slow to be authorised for reopening, even when they were outside; there are no after-school activities – and there have not been for nearly two years.
Our family appreciates the risks posed by Covid, but with the very high level of vaccination the risk analysis must shift too. Proper consideration and weight must be put on child wellbeing in all this. It cannot be a purely medical assessment. There is also the wider impact on the family – the stress of juggling work and meeting care and nurture needs. There are financial implications of additional childcare, too. Communication from our school is excellent, but this does not change the impact on children of the current rules.
Also, last term, we were asked to keep siblings at home if there was a case in a class. This had such a negative and cumulative impact. I want to see a change to the isolation and close-contact rules and, if seen as necessary, the introduction of antigen testing as a risk-management mechanism. The whole country is reopening, but children are missing out on yet more education. We need to get our priorities in order and reexamine this issue as soon as possible. – Rebecca C