The Irish Times view: On coronavirus in schools

Covid-19 information gap

Immuno-compromised but vaccinated adults will worry that an easing of protocols in their children’s schools could increase the likelihood of Covid entering the household and lead to breakthrough infection. File photograph: PA

Immuno-compromised but vaccinated adults will worry that an easing of protocols in their children’s schools could increase the likelihood of Covid entering the household and lead to breakthrough infection. File photograph: PA

 

The decision to relax close contact rules for pupils in primary schools and childcare from Monday has divided opinion.

Some believe it is too early to remove the stipulation that children under 13 who are close contacts of confirmed Covid-19 cases must isolate (from next week only those with symptoms must isolate). Immuno-compromised but vaccinated adults will worry that an easing of protocols in their children’s schools could increase the likelihood of coronavirus entering the household and lead to breakthrough infection. Families in that position have no entitlement to remote learning.

At the same time, many will feel relief that disruption to school life will ease and accept that the pandemic – and with it the response – are changing. Officials say the benefit of being able to attend school now outweighs the very small risk of serious illness for children. As Prof Philip Nolan of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) points out, positivity rates among close contacts in the 5-12 age group have reduced and incidence has been stable for the past 10 days.

A critical issue is communication. A decision that will strike some people as counter-intuitive should have been better explained. An information note covering frequently asked questions was only circulated to schools yesterday. And with the weekly briefings of the Health Service Executive and Nphet having been discontinued, the opportunities for teasing out and scrutinising public health decisions such as this one are fewer. The latest changes contain a lot of small print. Better communication could have allayed people’s concerns sooner. It might also have helped address questions over the rationale for maintaining a stricter self-isolation regime for special education settings, for example.

The Irish Primary Principals’ Network said schools would be guided by public health advice but quite reasonably pleaded for “concise, coherent and consistent” messaging on how to manage risk. That messaging will also be vital in ensuring that the changes do not create complacency or lead to easing off on basic mitigation measures.

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