There has been a surge in demand for close contact testing in schools since the resumption of classes in recent days, the Health Service Executive has said.
Niamh O’Beirne, head of the HSE’s testing and tracing service, said close contacts are being tested in 631 schools since reopening began last week.
Pupils at more than 100 primary schools have been tested every day since Tuesday of this week, and 75 secondary schools had students tested on Thursday. By lunchtime on Friday, 29 secondary schools had been earmarked for close contact testing, with demand on the service increasing as more schools resume teaching.
This compares to an average of 45 schools per day requiring close contact tracing in May, the last time both primary and secondary schools were open.
Ms O’Beirne said the high testing demand among school-based close contacts was reflective of the level of Covid-19 in the community, rather than evidence of spread within schools.
“These children caught Covid in the community and went into school with it, they did not get Covid in school,” she said. “There’s high incidence in the community … 30 per cent of all our cases are under the age of 18 today,” she said.
She said there would be a better indication of the degree to which Covid may be spreading in schools, if it is spreading in schools at all, once the results of two tests scheduled for close contacts come back for the children now being tested. “There is no evidence yet of transmission in school as we await the results from day zero and day 10 testing.”
The HSE has allotted 50 additional backroom staff to work with primary schools in response to the level of demand for testing.
Ms O’Beirne said referrals were up for children aged under 14, but test positivity is falling from 13 per cent last week to 10 per cent this week.
Meanwhile she said the HSE's test and trace teams had not detected any significant increases in Covid associated with recent GAA successes in Mayo and Limerick, and similarly, had not detected an increase in transmission associated with the Galway races.
Positivity rates for the virus among 15- 24-year-olds tested is down to 16 per cent from 23 per cent, possibly as a result of a vaccine effect, she said.
Separately the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) reported Ireland has the highest incidence of Covid-19 in the European Union. With a 14-day incidence of 504 cases per 100,000 people, Ireland has taken the mantle of Europe's national "hotspot" for Covid infections from Cyprus, which has an incidence of 496.
Incidence is lowest in eastern and northeastern Europe, but the highest regional incidence is in southeastern France rather than Ireland. The Republic's incidence is 2½ times the overall EU rate of 199.
While Ireland is currently experiencing very high rates of the disease, case numbers have been declining since mid-August, the latest HSE update shows.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre says incidence peaked at about 515 cases on August 23rd and now stands at 493. Incidence is rising in nine counties and falling in 19. Three counties – Monaghan, Donegal and Cavan – have 14-day incidences of over 1,000.
In the UK on Friday the government’s vaccine advisers said there was not enough evidence to justify universal vaccination of 12- to 15-year-olds on health grounds alone.
The UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said it had advised ministers to seek input from the UK's four chief medical officers on "wider societal and educational impacts" of the rollout to teenagers after it concluded the benefits and potential harms of a vaccine for that age group were "very finely balanced". Vaccination of 12- 15-year-olds here got under way last month.