Ten thousand children in isolation can return to school on Monday without Covid-testing

Infection control measures - such as pods and ventilation - to remain in schools, principals advised

About 10,000 children who are isolating after being identified as close contacts of Covid-19 cases may return to primary school next Monday without testing. Photograph: iStock

About 10,000 children who are isolating after being identified as close contacts of Covid-19 cases may return to primary school next Monday without testing. Photograph: iStock

 

Some 10,000 children who are isolating after being identified as close contacts of Covid-19 cases may return to primary school next Monday without the need to be tested as long as they are symptom-free, health authorities have confirmed.

It follows a Government decision on Wednesday to significantly relax Covid test and tracing protocols for children aged 12 and under in primary schools and childcare facilities.

About 1,200 children a day are currently being directed to isolate at home after being identified as as close contacts of positive cases across hundreds of schools and pre-schools. Until now, they have typically been restricting their movements for 10 days.

Detailed HSE guidance, due to be sent to school principals and childcare managers shortly, states that these children will not not need to present for Covid-19 testing prior to their return to school on Monday, September 27th if they do not have symptoms.

All infection prevention and control measures - such as pods and ventilation - should remain in place in schools.

On foot of the rule changes, school principals and childcare managers are being advised that they do not need to contact the HSE if they become aware of a Covid-19 case in their school in future.

In addition, children previously identified as close contacts of Covid-19 cases and do not have symptoms will not be routinely required to restrict their movements and undergo testing.

“Close observation of children for symptoms which are consistent with Covid-19 is recommended at all times,” the guidance states.

However, children identified as close contacts within special schools or special classes will typically remain in isolation for five days and undergo a single Covid test.

The HSE says this five-day period is to “balance the observation period required for signs of infection, with testing at the most relevant time, while not prolonging restricted movements and the harms to children from these restrictions”.

However, children identified as close contacts through a household case - for example a parent with Covid-19 - must remain restricting their movements.

The guidance notes that a child is a household contact if they were present overnight in the household of a positive case while the individual was infectious. They may have been in their own home or on a sleepover with family or friends.

Overall, the guidance confirms that automatic contact tracing of close contacts in children aged 12 or under in education or other non-residential settings is no longer recommended if they do not have symptoms.

This means these children will no longer be routinely required to restrict their movements.

Similarly, the automatic testing of close contacts in such settings will cease if they do not have symptoms.

Instead, there will be a “transition to testing for public health action and surveillance” if there are public health grounds to do so.

However, cases and outbreaks in special education settings and respite care will still have a public health risk assessment which may require close contacts to be referred for testing and to restrict their movement.

Elsewhere Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan moved to reassure parents and educators on the National Public Health Emergncy Team recommendation which he said was informed by analysis of the ongoing epidemiological situation.

He said the “resumption of in-person education was associated with a significant increase in the numbers of children referred for testing in recent weeks”. he said this was driven by screening of asymptomatic children identified as close contacts.

“This action was precautionary and was due to the diligence of parents and guardians bringing their children for tests. Despite significantly increased testing in this age group, there has only been a relatively modest increase in the detection of cases. We have also seen the associated positivity rate decrease from 16 per cent to 5 per cent which is very reassuring,” he said.

“Both nationally and internationally, the evidence tells us that schools are a low risk setting for the transmission of Covid-19 among school-going children and, as such, now is the right time to evolve our contact tracing approach, while maintaining the infection prevention and control in place in educational settings,” he said.

The latest figures released on Thursday show there are 1,355 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the State with 285 patients in hospital of whom 59 are in ICU.