Covid-19: Transmission rates in schools remain low despite outbreaks doubling in one week

1.7% of close contacts in schools test positive, latest weekly HSE figures show

The number of Covid-19 outbreaks in schools rose to 61 during the May 2nd-May 8th period, up from 29 the previous week. Photograph: Alan Betson

The number of Covid-19 outbreaks in schools rose to 61 during the May 2nd-May 8th period, up from 29 the previous week. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Transmission rates for Covid-19 appear to remain low in schools despite the number of outbreaks in education settings doubling from 29 to 61 in the space of a week, latest figures indicate.

The HSE Covid-19 testing report for schools, which covers May 2nd-May 8th, shows positive cases among pupils or staff were detected in 302 schools.

Of the 7,582 close contacts tested as a result, a total of 128 tested positive, or a positivity rates of 1.7 per cent.

Positivity rates were higher in special schools (3.1 per cent), followed by primary (2.3 per cent) and secondary (0.9 per cent).

The overall numbers are similar to the previous week when positive cases were detected in a total of 329 school settings and positivity rates among close contacts were 2.4 per cent.

Health officials view these relatively low rates as an encouraging sign that mitigation measures - such as physical distancing - are limiting the spread of the virus within schools.

Meanwhile, the number of Covid-19 outbreaks in schools rose to 61 during the May 2nd-May 8th period, up from 29 the previous week, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre’s weekly report.

Outbreaks are defined by health authorities as including two or more cases.

A breakdown of the figures indicates that a total of 109 cases were linked to these outbreaks.

The single biggest outbreak involved up to 18 cases, which indicates that the majority involved relatively few cases.

While outbreaks are associated with school children or school staff, officials say transmission of Covid-19 within the school has not necessarily been established in these cases.

In a number of high-profile outbreaks which led to school closures in recent weeks, for example, the spread of Covid-19 has been linked to social gatherings outside the school premises.

Students at second level schools, in particular, are being urged to be extra vigilant over Covid-19 risks in the run-up to next month’s Leaving Cert.

Authorities have confirmed that candidates should not present for Leaving Cert exams if they have been diagnosed with Covid-19, if they have any symptoms of the virus or if they are a close contact of a confirmed case.

Students unable to sit an exam for these reasons will automatically receive accredited grades.

Reuban Murray, president of the Irish Second Level Students’ Union, said the union was advising students and their families to reduce their social contacts in the run-up to the exams.

“The exams are a stressful time. and the Covid-19 threat is compounding that. I think students are self-regulating themselves, and taking matters into their own hands in order to stay safe and reduce the risks of contracting the virus,’ he said.

In some cases, students are advising their parents and family members to reduce their social contacts as well.

The Teachers Union of Ireland has urged Leaving Cert students to exercise additional caution to prevent exposing themselves to the risk of infection.

TUI general secretary Michael Gillespie said final-year students have worked extremely hard over this academic year in very difficult circumstances.

“They have displayed great resilience at a time of significant stress and anxiety. They should exercise additional caution in the days and weeks ahead, making sure to abide by all public health advice and avoiding any activities that might expose them to risk,” he said.

“In doing so they will be protecting themselves, their classmates, their families and the wider school community.”