Antigen tests will be provided to primary school children where another child in their pod has tested positive for Covid-19, Minister for Education Norma Foley has said.
In a case where two or more cases arise in a class within a seven-day period outside of the original pod, antigen testing will be offered to the full class.
The tests – which will be made available from November 29th – will be sent to the children’s parents by the Health Service Executive.
Parents and guardians are being instructed to inform the school principal of a positive result and the principal will then inform parents of other children in the pod. No personal details will be shared.
Until now, this was being done on a voluntary basis in some school.
The school principal will then inform the parents of other children in the pod of a confirmed case. These parents will be provided with the option to receive free antigen tests for their child, which they will be able to order for delivery to their home.
Ms Foley said children who are in a pod where a child has tested positive can continue to attend school provided they are not experiencing symptoms of the virus. If a child displays any symptoms, they should self-isolate immediately and parent or guardians are requested to arrange a PCR test.
While antigen testing will be encouraged, it will not be mandatory for children. In addition, school principals will not be required to gather evidence of participation or of antigen test results.
The Department of Education said information material for parents will be shared with schools and publicised early next week. The antigen testing programme is due to commence on or before November 29th. Ms Foley said she welcomed the HSE’s introduction of this choice for parents and children to undertake antigen testing.
“It is important that everyone continues to follow all the public health advice in using this new programme. In particular, I urge parents to take the opportunity to inform principals quickly if a child receives a positive result from a PCR test for Covid-19. By doing this, the choice to participate in antigen testing can be offered to other parents,” she said.
“We all need to continue to follow all the advice we know so well now, including hand-washing, staying at home if we have any symptoms, and reducing our contacts where possible.”
Minister for Health Donnelly said antigen testing was an additional layer in our public health advice. He stressed that the public health message remains that anyone who has any respiratory symptoms should self-isolate at home and get a PCR test as soon as possible.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, which represents primary school teachers, said the new scheme must be properly resourced and kept under review.
“Infection levels are rising in our schools and the wider community at an alarming rate,” said a union spokesman.
“Swift deployment, clear guidance and a full suite of supports for schools will be essential if this measure is to have the necessary impact on our schools.”
It also called on the Government to launch national public awareness campaign designed to stop those who are symptomatic from attending school.
Meanwhile, school managers have warned parents may see more primary school classes being sent home over the coming weeks due to a “crisis” in substitution cover which will worsen due to new rules on close contacts.
Under new rules announced on Tuesday, people – including teachers – who are close contacts of a confirmed case in their household are being advised to restrict their movements for five days, even if vaccinated.
Until now those who were fully vaccinated were not required to self-isolate or restrict their movements when listed as close contacts.
Séamus Mulconry, general secretary of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association, which supports more than 2,800 primary schools, said the change will worsen teacher supply.
“We already have a substitution crisis and schools are operating at their limits. These new rules will make it even worse. In a worst-case scenario, we’re looking at classes being sent home,” he said.
How the school antigen testing programme will work
When a parent receives a positive PCR test result on their child, they are requested to notify the school principal immediately.
The school principal will inform the parents of the children in the positive case’s pod that they are close contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case. The name of the case or any other details will not be shared.
The school principal will identify the children in the case’s pod, and inform their parents, offering the opportunity to order antigen tests from the distribution company.
The antigen tests will be posted to the parents of the children in the pod.
Parents carry out the antigen test on the day that they receive it and every second day until three tests have been done.
The children in the pod can continue to attend school as long as they remain asymptomatic and their antigen test results remain not detected.
If a child’s antigen test indicates a positive result:
If an antigen test is positive, the child isolates at home and the child’s parent/guardian logs onto the HSE to request a PCR test.
The antigen test distribution company will record the numbers of antigen tests distributed, batch numbers and the names of the relevant schools.
If a child develops symptoms of COVID-19:
If at any stage a child becomes symptomatic they should isolate at home and organise a PCR test if indicated. A “not–detected” antigen test holds no value in this situation of a symptomatic child.
If two or more cases arise in a class, outside a single pod:
In a case where two or more cases arise in a class, within a seven-day period, outside of a single pod, antigen testing will be offered to the full class.