Covid: primary schools to get antigen tests from November 29th

Coronavirus incidence surges among primary school-aged children

Some schools say they are struggling to keep classes open. File photograph: iStock

Some schools say they are struggling to keep classes open. File photograph: iStock

 

The incidence of Covid-19 among primary school-aged children has continued to surge upwards, new figures show.

Antigen tests will be made available in primary schools from November 29th onwards.

The rate of infection among children aged five to 12 years of age climbed to 767 per 100,000 last week (November 7th to 13th), according to a weekly report compiled by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.

This is up from 618 per 100,000 the previous week and 432 per 100,000 the week before.

Confirming the use of antigen tests in primary schools, Minister for Education Norma Foley said the Health Service Executive will provide antigen tests to parents or guardians of all children in a class pod if one person in the pod tests positive.

Where two or more cases arise in a seven-day period outside of the original classroom pod, antigen testing will be provided to the full class, she said.

Parents and guardians will be also asked to inform principals if a pupil tests positive, and the school will then inform the parents or guardians of the other children in the class pod.

Health authorities say the risk of onward transmission from undetected asymptomatic cases within the school setting remains low, despite the overall increase in cases.

Among age groups, primary school-aged children have the second highest incidence, behind 19- to 24-year-olds (905 per 100,000).

The national average across all age groups last week was 585 per 100,000.

A separate Health Protection Surveillance Centre report indicates there were 16 outbreaks associated with schools last week, up from two the previous week.

The biggest outbreak was linked to 25 cases in a single school.

However, health authorities say this scale of outbreak remains the exception.

Almost a third (31 per cent) of outbreaks associated with schools involved just two linked cases.

“The risk of onward transmission from undetected asymptomatic cases within the school setting remains low,” the report states.

Many schools on Thursday reported that they were struggling to keep classes open due a “crisis” in substitution cover linked to high rates of sick leave or teachers being forced to self-isolate due to the virus.

School managers have warned that shortages are growing even more acute following a new definition of what constitutes close contacts.

One school – Scoil Eoin Báiste in Nobber, Co Meath – is the latest primary school to report that it has been forced to ask its third and fourth classes to remain at home due to a lack of substitution cover.

Many others say they are struggling and are “plugging gaps” by using special education teachers and students.

Some secondary schools also said they had come close to sending year groups home on Thursday.

One post-primary school had more than a dozen teachers out and managed to remain open by using canteens and other large rooms.

Teachers’ Union of Ireland general secretary Michael Gillespie said some schools may be forced to keep exam year groups in school and send others home in extreme circumstances.

“It will be up to individual schools to figure how how to stay open, but it could mean prioritising who stays in schools. As things stand, some schools are struggling to provide a service,” he said.

Sharp Dáil exchanges

Meanwhile, the Labour Party has claimed that the shortage of substitute teachers means the school system is on the “brink of collapse”.

Speaking in the Dáil, the party’s education spokesman Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said there was huge confusion over new close contact rules and said the rollout of antigen testing was too slow.

However, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he believed the education system will remain open thanks to measures being taken to boost teacher supply,

They include availing of teachers who are out of work, on career breaks or students training to become teachers.