Covid-19: 50% increase detected in schools following mass testing last week

Positivity rate among close contacts in schools remains steady at 3.3%

There were 94 cases of Covid-19 detected in schools last week following mass testing of more than 2,800 students and staff, latest official figures show. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP

There were 94 cases of Covid-19 detected in schools last week following mass testing of more than 2,800 students and staff, latest official figures show. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP

 

There were 94 cases of Covid-19 detected in schools last week following mass testing of more than 2,800 students and staff, latest official figures show.

The number of cases – up from 61 the previous week – represents an increase of just over 50 per cent in the space of seven days.

However, the positivity rate among close contacts tested was 3.3 per cent, similar to last week’s rate of 3.5 per cent.

This measure is seen by public health experts as crucial in measuring the risk of transmission in schools.

The equivalent rate for mass-testing of close contacts in the community is estimated to be in the region of 10 to 12 per cent.

The figures are contained in the Health Service Executive’s (HSE) weekly Covid-19 mass testing report for schools and childcare facilities for December 13th to December 21st.

The report shows positivity rates following mass testing were highest in special schools (5.1 per cent) followed by primary schools (4 per cent) and secondary schools (0.7 per cent).

Public health experts say these figures reflect the challenges maintaining social distancing and other measures among these age groups.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin stressed on Tuesday that schools will open as planned in January despite new Level 5 restrictions.

In line with advice from public health authorities, he said schools, early learning and childcare services will continue to remain open and are deemed essential.

However, this position will likely be reviewed if the growth in cases accelerates to the point where thousands of new cases are being reported every day.

When asked earlier this week if a surge in infection levels could result in advice to delay the reopening of schools, State chief medical officer Tony Holohan said officials were keeping the matter under review.

Many schools countrywide have in recent days sent pupils’ books home with them as a precautionary measure in case of delay to the new year reopening.

Emergency remote teaching guidelines were issued by the Department of Education to secondary schools late last week, though officials say this was simply an update to earlier guidance. A similar document was circulated to primary schools in November.

In the North many secondary school pupils are set to move to remote learning for a period from late-January, Northern Ireland’s Minister for Education Peter Weir has said.

In Scotland, the return to face-to-face classes will be delayed for most pupils for two weeks.

The latest HSE schools report, meanwhile, only lists positive cases identified following mass testing.

It does not include a formal breakdown of the number of so-called index cases which triggered testing of close contacts in schools.

However, it is likely the number of index cases is at least 149, given that mass testing took place in this number of schools last week.

This means the total number of cases recorded in schools last week is likely to be in the region of at least 211.