School distributes antigen tests to Leaving Cert students amid Covid fears

Leaving Cert exams get under way with public health measures in place

Laurel Hill Secondary School  has been donated  antigen tests by Louth-based Cooley Supplies Ltd, which claims research shows they are up to 96%  accurate.  Photograph: Getty Images

Laurel Hill Secondary School has been donated antigen tests by Louth-based Cooley Supplies Ltd, which claims research shows they are up to 96% accurate. Photograph: Getty Images

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A Co Limerick secondary school is to be the first in the country to roll out antigen testing to its Leaving Cert students amid concern over high Covid-19 rates in the local community.

Laurel Hill Secondary School FCJ in Limerick says it will distribute packs of antigen tests to students this week free of charge to help provide reassurance to students.

“We’re doing this as another safety measure, in addition to other measures such as face masks and ventilation,” said school principal Michael Cregan. “Our students have made a massive effort to study and to undertake the written exams, and we want to give them every chance to do so.”

A number of Leaving Cert students in Limerick and elsewhere have had to miss their exams after testing positive for Covid-19 or being listed as close contacts.

Under State Examinations Commission rules, students must not present for exams if they are self-isolating or have symptoms of the virus.

Mr Cregan said the level of virus circulating in Limerick meant the school was happy to do anything to alleviate students’ concerns.

“This isn’t about replacing the HSE tests. Our advice to students is in line with public health guidance: to stay away from the exams if you have been advised to self-isolate, or get tested if you have symptoms.”

The school has been donated the antigen tests by Louth-based Cooley Supplies Ltd, which claims research shows they are up to 96 per cent accurate.

Bernard Brady, the company’s chief executive, said many schools were also seeking access to antigen tests for their students, but were unable to do so due to the Government’s stance.

He said tests were being used across education systems in countries such as Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.

Experts

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has warned that cheaper, quicker antigen tests for the virus are only 50 per cent accurate, prompting the Government to limit their planned use.

This has been challenged by experts such as Michael Mina, assistant epidemiology professor at Harvard University, who said data indicates that using rapid screening before large gatherings can prevent 90-95 per cent of transmissions.

Meanwhile, the Leaving Cert exams got under way at hundreds of schools on Wednesday amid safety measures such as strict limits on numbers and social distancing.

Lower numbers of students are sitting exams compared to normal years because candidates have been given a choice between exams or accredited grades, or both. The vast majority have opted for a combination of both.

About 90 per cent of candidates have registered to sit at least one exam, with the remainder opting for accredited grades only, which are based on teachers’ estimates.