Up to 12,000 children are out of school as a result of being close contacts of confirmed Covid-19 cases, according to the Health Service Executive.
With about 1,200 schools now having identified a case among students, policies on restricted movement among close contacts of confirmed infections are having a knock-on impact countrywide.
Several thousand more children are also off classes as they have contracted the disease. Or they were not sent to school after a positive diagnosis.
HSE head of testing and tracing Niamh O’Beirne said on average about 15 children are identified as close contacts in primary schools and three in secondary schools, where physical contact is less prevalent.
Under current policy, close contacts cannot resume school before they receive a clear PCR test result on day 10 after being designated as contacts.
There are about 700 primary schools and 500 secondary schools where cases have been identified, leading to the requirement for close contacts to restrict movement. This means 10,000-12,000 children are affected.
However, that figure could rise significantly as it reflects cases detected last week when some schools had yet to reopen or were not running full schedules.
Ms O’Beirne said the children who are restricting their movements have a “relatively low likelihood of being positive”. It is estimated at least 1,200 children who were in school have been identified as having the disease and are off school, and about 2,800 contracted the virus but have not resumed school.
Siblings and positive diagnosis
Siblings are often caught up in the fallout from a positive diagnosis as they have a continued exposure risk, which mandates a longer period of absence than a close contact outside the household. Under current guidelines they cannot resume classes until they get a clear PCR test after 17 days.
Ms O’Beirne has 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.
She also said demand for swabbing in the community is at its strongest since early this year, during the third wave, but that positivity is not climbing. There were 20,500 swabs taken in the community by 5pm on Monday, meaning the total number when hospital and other swabs are incorporated will be more than 25,000. It has not been as high since late last December.
She said positivity is relatively low among children being swabbed in the community, at about 9 per cent. Meanwhile, positivity among 15-24 year olds is 15 per cent, which is falling.