Coronavirus: HSE experts support the early reopening of schools

New research finds that schools in Ireland are not a high-risk setting for Covid-19

‘Given the burden of school closure . . . reopening of schools should be considered as an early rather than a late measure in the lifting of restrictions,’ researchers have said. Photograph: iStock

‘Given the burden of school closure . . . reopening of schools should be considered as an early rather than a late measure in the lifting of restrictions,’ researchers have said. Photograph: iStock

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Schools in Ireland are not a high-risk setting for the transmission of coronavirus, and reopening classrooms should be considered as an early measure in lifting restrictions, according to the HSE’s public health experts.

In a new study on school-related cases, experts examined whether there was any evidence of transmission of the virus prior to the closure of schools on March 12th.

At the time there were three confirmed cases of coronavirus involving three students, and a further three among adults in school settings.

The research found there was no confirmed transmission of the virus from these six cases to a total of 1,025 child and adult contacts in primary and secondary schools.

The finding are contained in a research paper published on Thursday in Eurosurveillance, a journal on infectious disease control. The five authors are listed as being members of the HSE’s public health medicine section.

In its conclusion, the authors say the findings echo the experience of other countries where children have not emerged as considerable drivers of Covid-19 transmission.

Parents: Share your experiences of homeschooling during Covid-19

“These findings suggest that schools are not a high-risk setting for the transmission of Covid-19 between pupils or between staff and pupils,” the study concludes.

“Given the burden of school closure . . . reopening of schools should be considered as an early rather than a late measure in the lifting of restrictions.”

Logistical work

Minister for Education Joe McHugh, however, has said schools will remain closed until September and warned of “massive” logistical work in reopening them safely.

He said on Thursday that even if social distancing rules are relaxed from two to one metre, all children will still not be in a position to resume school full-time and online learning will continue.

The study’s findings say that while it is based on small numbers and provides limited evidence in relation to Covid-19 transmission in schools, it included all known cases with school attendance in the State.

The results also echo population screening studies in Iceland, Italy and Australia which identified very few cases of coronavirus transmission in schools.

The study says the three confirmed cases of students with the virus in Ireland included one in primary and two in secondary school.

The adult cases included a teacher and two other tutors who conducted educational sessions in schools of up to two hours long.

There were no confirmed cases out of the more than 1,000 contacts of these six cases. They were exposed to the virus in class, sports lessons, music lessons and during a choir practice in a church.

The Irish Times is seeking the views of teachers and parents on "remote learning". To share your experiences of homeschooling in recent months, and your opinions on it continuing next year, click here.

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