Back to school Q&A: What Covid-19 safety measures have changed?

A guide to what is changing, and what is remaining the same, as schools reopen


As children are set to return to classrooms in the coming days, what Covid-19 measures are changing in schools, and what will remain the same?

Who has to wear masks?

As before, teachers and children in secondary schools will be required to wear face masks, apart from in exceptional circumstances.

In primary school, children will not be required to wear face masks. Officials viewed a requirement for mandatory masks to be too challenging for younger children, and a cause of undue stress.

Academics in the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group, which has pushed for a zero-Covid strategy, had called for primary school children to wear masks, due to current high rates of the virus.

What Covid-19 safety measures will be in place in schools?

The primary and secondary school experience will look much the same as it did before the summer break, with the now standard range of infection control measures to remain. This will include hand sanitising, social distancing and extensive cleaning of classrooms. In primary schools the “pod” system of grouping children together will also continue.

So what’s new?

One of the main changes will be carbon dioxide monitors placed in classrooms. This will allow schools to check how well ventilated a room is, as the virus spreads more easily in poorly ventilated indoor areas.

Up to 20 portable monitors will be provided to each primary school and up to 35 for schools at post-primary level, depending on school size. To improve ventilation in rooms schools can open windows fully when classrooms are empty, and partially when they are in use.

Do teachers have to be vaccinated?

Teachers and other school staff will not be required to have received a Covid-19 vaccine to return to the classroom.

While it is strongly recommended that teachers and other staff opt to receive the vaccine, a decision has been made not to make vaccination mandatory.

How many students are vaccinated?

Vaccination of students of secondary school age has been under way for a number of weeks now. Those aged 16 and 17 were able to register for their vaccine at the end of July, while vaccinations for the 12- to 15-year-old age group began in mid-August.

Some 135,000 people in the 12-15 age cohort have registered – with parental consent – for vaccines, and 77,000 of them have received their first doses.

While the vaccination of this group may still take several more weeks, amid a slower uptake than elsewhere, the earlier than expected rollout of vaccines to secondary school children will provide an additional barrier to Covid-19 spreading in classrooms.

What about new symptoms?

Teachers’ unions have warned parents that Covid-19 may be presenting with different symptoms than those previously most associated with the novel coronavirus, such as a dry cough or fever.

The Delta variant has seen an increase in other symptoms, such as a runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, headaches, and in some cases vomiting or diarrhoea. Parents have been cautioned that children displaying such symptoms should not attend school.

How many cases have been reported in schools?

There have been 832 outbreaks linked to school staff and students since schools first reopened last August, accounting for 3,650 cases.

A recent HSE report said the rate of Covid-19 being passed on to others in school settings was low, and deemed educational facilities “low risk”, if all infection control measures were followed.

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