Coronavirus outbreak at Bray school in Beacon Hospital vaccine controversy

A number of teaching staff and students at St Gerard’s test positive for Covid-19

St Gerard’s School on Thornhill Road, outside Bray, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

St Gerard’s School on Thornhill Road, outside Bray, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

St Gerard’s School in Bray, Co Wicklow, which was at the centre of controversy over the vaccination of teachers, has been affected by a Covid-19 outbreak.

A number of teachers are understood to have tested positive for the virus in recent days, while three other staff have been identified as close contacts and have been asked to self-isolate.

Several other teaching colleagues had precautionary Covid tests at the weekend, which came back with negative results.

In addition, two positive cases among students have recently been identified by the HSE.

Tom Geraghty, headmaster of St Gerard’s, told The Irish Times that both the senior and junior schools remain fully operational and teachers identified as close contacts are continuing to deliver classes from home as normal to their students .

The school population between the junior and senior schools is 800 students and it employs over 100 staff.

Mr Geraghty confirmed that “a few” teaching staff have tested positive and the school’s main concern is the “wellbeing of those with Covid and their recovery”.

The school faced criticism last month after it emerged that 20 of its staff members received Covid-19 vaccines at the Beacon hospital.

In a subsequent letter to parents from the school board, it said it “sincerely apologised” for its role in the vaccination controversy.

However, it said no person acting on behalf of the school sought early access to vaccines.

The school said it had been approached by the CEO of the Beacon Hospital and was assured that using the vaccines in order to avoid waste had HSE permission.

It said the fact that the board of the Beacon subsequently confirmed that the decision to offer the vaccines was not in line with the sequencing guidelines in place from the HSE was “ deeply concerning.”

Parties

In a separate development, students have been urged to avoid attending social gatherings or parties in order to ensure Leaving Certificate students are able to sit their exams.

Pobalscoil na Tríonóide in Youghal, Co Cork, was forced to close earlier this week after an outbreak, which was been linked to a birthday party in the area. Fifteen students have tested positive for Covid-19 to date.

The school closed on Monday for a detailed public risk assessment and reopened on Tuesday.

In a message to parents, the school has asked that children should not be allowed to attend parties or social gatherings until public health advice is issued that it is safe to do so.

“Students, teachers and school staff have made huge sacrifices during this last year, but in order to keep our school community safe, to keep our school open and to allow the Leaving Certificate exams to go ahead, our efforts must continue,” the school said.

It added: “We are all doing our very best to ensure our school remains open and remains a safe place in which to learn and work. However, the actions of a few could jeopardise these efforts, and in so doing, compromise the running of the Leaving Certificate examinations.”

A secondary school in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, meanwhile, will remain closed until May 4th following a significant Covid-19 outbreak.

All 570 students, as well as teaching staff at St Joseph’s CBS have been offered screening tests by the HSE.

In a letter to parents at the school, the HSE has advised that “parties and large social gatherings are not permitted under current restrictions. These gatherings can unfortunately contribute to the spread of Covid-19 among children, young people and subsequently schools.”

Outbreaks

Overall, Covid-19 outbreaks in schools and childcare settings rose sharply last week, latest figures show.

The number of outbreaks in schools rose six-fold in a week, to 31 last week from five the previous week, according to the latest weekly report from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC). Childcare outbreaks doubled from 11 to 22.

However, latest HSE figures also show positivity rates for Covid-19 among close contacts in schools last week remained low.

The weekly HSE testing report for April 18th-24th shows that positive cases were identified in 183 schools last week.

Testing of just over 4,600 close contacts in schools on foot of these cases resulted in a total of 116 further positive cases.

This equates to positivity rates of 2.4 per cent at primary, 2.5 per cent at secondary and 8.8 per cent in special education.