Covid 19: Transmission within schools stays low despite outbreaks

Some 31 positive cases last week following mass testing of 2,284 students and staff

The risk of transmission of Covid-19 virus within schools remains low despite a number of high-profile clusters of cases in schools, according to public health experts.

Latest data show that of the 2,284 tests carried out among the close contacts of staff and students with Covid-19 last week, a total of 31 tested positive.

This amounts to a positivity rate of about 1.3 per cent, down from more than twice that rate in the weeks before the mid-term break.

The figures are contained in the HSE’s weekly Covid-19 schools mass testing report based on figures collected last week between November 15th and November 21st.

Of the 31 positive cases, 23 were detected in primary schools and eight were in secondary schools. The vast majority (88 per cent) of cases were among children.

HSE officials have said latest figures show transmission within schools is low, while family settings continue to be the main driver of cases.

However, the number of outbreaks or clusters or cases in schools is on the rise

A report from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre found there were 19 outbreaks in schools last week, up from 10 the previous week.

An outbreak is defined as the detection of two or more cases in a setting.

This brings the total number of outbreaks recorded in schools since they reopen to 202.

The weekly report says transmission of Covid-19 within the school has not necessarily been established in these outbreaks.

Ongoing investigations

Investigations are ongoing into the circumstances surrounding the detection of 17 coronavirus cases in a school in Co Cork earlier this week.

Gaelscoil Uí Drisceoil in Glanmire, Co Cork closed earlier this week after Covid-19 cases were detected across several classes.

The school said it was first alerted to a positive case on November 15th last, followed by other cases over subsequent days.

However, it has since emerged that another case had been detected within the school community several days previously, which the school was unaware of.

It is understood that public health authorities may have been provided with inaccurate information at the time about whether this first case was on the school premises while infectious.

The school’s board of management believes the outbreak could have been contained if there was greater transparency over sharing data at an earlier stage.

Dr Seán Ó Conaill, chair of the school’s board of management, said staff and students had done an “amazing job” in taking all necessary precautions since it reopened.

However, he said the fact that the school was not alerted to the first positive case for several days meant it was unaware of a heightened risk that the virus may have been circulating in the school.

“Perhaps the HSE needs to look at how they communicate these cases to schools. We need to weigh up the right to privacy versus the general public health. At a national level, that needs to be looked at,” he said.

A number of other schools across the country have also recorded outbreaks of Covid-19 cases this week, but not on the scale of Gaelscoil Uí Drisceoil.


Adamstown Castle Education Together National School in Dublin has been alerted to at least three cases, while St Luke's National School in Tyrellstown has told parents of two confirmed cases. Coláiste Mhuire secondary school in Johnstown, Co Kilkenny, has alerted parents of several confirmed cases.

A separate report by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre on Covid-19 examining cases across the country indicates that children of school-going age now account for a greater proportion of cases than before.

The “weekly epidemiology” report – which also covers the November 15th and November 21st period – shows a total of 486 positive cases were recorded among children of school-going age.

These school-going age cases account for more than 18 per cent of the total Covid-19 cases recorded during the week. This is up from 15 per cent in September and 16 per cent in October.