Covid-19 cases will occur in schools in coming weeks, Glynn says

Open letter assures public health teams will protect students and staff throughout return

Dr Ronan Glynn, acting chief medical officer: “There are no zero-risk options for reopening schools . . . the aim, therefore, is to reopen in as safe a way as possible.” Photograph: Colin Keegan

Dr Ronan Glynn, acting chief medical officer: “There are no zero-risk options for reopening schools . . . the aim, therefore, is to reopen in as safe a way as possible.” Photograph: Colin Keegan

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The acting chief medical officer has moved to reassure worried parents as schools reopen, but has acknowledged that cases of Covid-19 in children will happen in the coming weeks.

However, Dr Ronan Glynn said that public health teams will respond and liaise closely with schools involved to ensure that all necessary measures are taken to protect other students and school staff.

Dr Glynn made the comments in an open letter to parents and teachers as the majority of schools and childcare facilities prepare to fully reopen this week.

“I am very aware that many of you are worried about the reopening of schools . . . This concern is natural and is to be fully expected,” he said.

Dr Glynn said the decision to reopen schools has not been taken lightly and was based on international guidance and latest scientific evidence.

Mild symptoms

He said this shows that child-to-child and child-to-adult transmission of Covid-19 in schools is “uncommon”.

In addition, the overwhelming majority of children who are diagnosed with Covid-19 have mild symptoms.

“There are no zero-risk options for reopening schools or indeed any other environment; the aim, therefore, is to reopen in as safe a way as possible ,” he said.

While it was okay to send a child to school if they have a runny nose or a sneeze, he said they should he kept at home if they had symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, or loss of taste or smell.

In the case of suspected Covid-19, the latest advice is that every person a child lives with should also restrict their movements, at least until a child gets a diagnosis from their GP or a coronavirus test result. This means not going to school, childcare or work.

Returning to college

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said there would be strict rules when students return to college, but it will vary from institution to institution. Mr Harris said the priority would be first year students.

When it comes to college accommodation, authorities are being asked to group students who study the same subjects to limit contacts, while some third level institutions are introducing flexible accommodation where students pay only for the days they are on site.

Mr Harris told RTÉ Radio 1’s Today with Claire Byrne on Monday he did not want “any messing around” as some students had been treated “shabbily” at the start of lockdown.

The Minister also pointed out that the SUSI grant system would make allowances for students whose family circumstances had changed because of Covid-19, while the student assistance fund had been doubled and €15 million had been granted to purchase 17,000 laptops for students who need them.

More college places are being provided, he said, especially in sectors such as health and education. It was sensible to increase college spaces, but it cannot be done dramatically as this would “tip over” the third level system.

Mr Harris said he was confident about this year’s Leaving Cert results and he predicted that there would not be the same difficulties as there had been in the UK.

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