Schools to set up isolation areas for those with Covid-19 symptoms

Teaching staff will not be required to wear personal protective equipment

Cleaning crews work to deep clean a primary school in Melbourne, Australia, after some students tested positive for Covid-19 this week.  Photograph: Darrian Traynor/Getty

Cleaning crews work to deep clean a primary school in Melbourne, Australia, after some students tested positive for Covid-19 this week. Photograph: Darrian Traynor/Getty

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All schools will be required to have designated isolation areas for any staff or pupils with symptoms of Covid-19, according to new official guidance.

In addition, all teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs) will be required to undergo Covid-19 induction training prior to returning to the classroom.

Staff will not be required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) with the exception of circumstances such as providing first aid or dealing with suspected Covid-19 cases.

However, masks should be provided to any staff member or pupil who has symptoms of the virus.

The guidance is contained in a Department of Education School Covid-19 Response Plan, which is being circulated to schools ahead of the start of a summer catch-up programme for children with special needs.

Similar rules are expected to apply to all schools when they reopen to all students in late August and September.

The guidance, however, does not state what physical distancing rules will apply when schools reopen.

A department spokesman said these details were still being finalised in conjunction with public health officials and were due to be published later this week.

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Under the latest guidance, any staff or pupils with symptoms of the virus will be asked to leave safely or be transported home by a family member. Public transport of any kind should not be used.

In addition, schools will be required to limit access to the building to essential workers only and keep a detailed log of people arriving in and out of school.

Handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers must be made available at multiple locations within the school facility and should be available in each classroom.

Staff will also be required to use and clean their own equipment and utensils such as cups, cutlery and plates.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh has said his preference is for schools to reopen fully with no requirement for physical distancing between pupils on the basis that many would not be able to return to school otherwise.

Criticism

The department, meanwhile, has faced criticism for the delay in providing detailed guidance to schools on physical distancing just days ahead of the end of the academic year and the start of the summer catch-up programme.

Fórsa, the trade union which represents 12,000 school staff including SNAs, warned that the absence of detailed guidance was deterring many schools and staff from opting in to the summer programme.

“Without this guidance schools do not know how many students can attend, what PPE such as masks will be required, and what new hygiene regime will be required,” it said, in a statement.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said while some practical guidance had been issued to schools this week, it was imperative the department moved quickly to issue expert public health advice to allay any concerns of schools, teachers and parents.

It said those signing up to the summer programme must be confident that they can participate in this scheme in a safe manner, with thorough guidance available to school boards of management, principals and teachers who choose to participate.

New cases

The guidance comes as three new Covid-19-related deaths were reported in the Republic as well as 10 new confirmed cases.

The latest figures reported on Tuesday evening by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) bring total deaths to 1,720 and the total number of cases to 25,391, as of midnight on Monday.

It said 18,368 tests for the virus had been carried out in the past week, of which 97 were positive. This indicates a positivity rate of 0.5 per cent. In Northern Ireland, meanwhile, no new cases were reported for the second time since mid-March. However, the North’s Department of Health reported one more person with coronavirus had died, bringing the total number of fatalities to 546.