Covid-19 outbreak reported at special school in Dublin

Fifteen cases of coronavirus identified at school in Clontarf

Mass testing took place at the school on Thursday. File photograph: iStock

Mass testing took place at the school on Thursday. File photograph: iStock

 

There has been an outbreak of Covid-19 in a Dublin special school, amid calls for special needs assistants (SNAs) and teachers to be reprioritised for vaccination.

The Irish Times understands that 15 confirmed cases of Covid-19 are associated with an outbreak at a Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) School in Clontarf, Co Dublin.

Mass testing took place outside the school on Thursday. It closed on Friday, March 26th, for the Easter holiday break.

In a statment the CRC confirmed that a number of confirmed Covid-19 cases have been identified in our CRC School, Clontarf. Our thoughts are with the pupils, staff and families directly affected and we wish them a speedy recovery.

The CRC said it has been working with all involved throughout the week and is continuing to work closely with the Health Servie Executive and public health.

“On Tuesday, March 30th, we requested, from public health, blanket testing for the whole school community. Public health via the National Ambulance Service facilitated the carrying out of testing on staff and students on our campus in Clontarf on Thursday, April 1st. We remain in contact with all relevant authorities in this regard.”

The statement added that the CRC school supports pupils aged three to 18 years of age with physical disabilities and complex medical needs. It added that in addition to all mandatory guidelines the CRC school has implemented additional precautions such as:

  • Daily triage for all pupils before starting their school day;
  • Mandatory wearing of face masks for all staff throughout the day;
  • In addition to bubbles and pods the school further divided into zones.

The CRC said it has consistently advocated for the early vaccination of all school staff as “our schools are co-located with our clinical services and frontline healthcare staff”.

Vaccination plan

This comes after the announcement of a revised Covid-19 vaccination plan, where teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs) are no longer listed in a separate cohort to be prioritised for vaccination.

Instead, vaccinations will be delivered on the basis of age once those aged 16-64 who are considered to be high risk are vaccinated.

The move has been heavily criticised by teaching and SNA unions.

Fórsa, which represents SNAs, wrote to Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Thursday to ask the Government to review its decision to remove SNAs from the vaccine priority list.

The letter, signed by Andy Pike, Fórsa’s head of education, also asked that SNAs be included under category nine of the revised vaccine schedule, which includes people aged 16-64 who work in crowded settings.

“In our special schools, healthcare staff such as nurses, occupational therapists and physiotherapists have all been vaccinated through the HSE rollout, whilst the SNAs who work alongside them with the same students have not been vaccinated. That is not a fair or sustainable situation,” Mr Pike said in the letter.

Similarly, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, which represents primary school teachers, along with the Teachers’ Union of Ireland and the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland are meeting with the Department of Education to express concerns about the new vaccine rollout.

Department of Education and HSE response

A spokesman for the Department of Education said the department does not comment on individual case.

“The Department of Health and the HSE have reaffirmed that schools in themselves are low-risk environments. It is planned that schools will fully reopen after Easter on April 12th,” they added in a statement.

“Public health has reviewed the measures put in place to ensure safe operation of schools and is satisfied that these infection prevention and control measures, if rigorously adhered to, will keep the school community safe during this period. They emphasise that all measures must be followed carefully by students, staff and parents.”

The spokesman said the HSE has well-established protocol to support schools where there is a confirmed case of Covid-19 connected to it.

The Department of Education said, in the statement, that parents are advised to be vigilant over the Easter break, and to avoid play dates and sleepovers, in order to keep Covid-19 numbers as low as possible and continue with the next phase of school reopening.

In relation to the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, the Department of Education said “the move to an age-based model supports the vaccination programme objectives by protecting those at highest risk of serious illness, hospitalisation and death first, regardless of occupation.”

“This decision has implications for many sectors including school staff and will result in those working in schools being vaccinated with their age cohort. People who are medically vulnerable including school staff will continue to be vaccinated in line with their original grouping.”

The HSE said it could not comment on individual cases or outbreaks.

“When a case of Covid-19 is identified, which is associated to an educational facility, Public Health professionals engage directly with the person, or family as appropriate, and asks them about their contacts.

“Public Health professionals will also discuss the matter directly with the educational facility if deemed necessary, undertaking a Public Health Risk Assessment. Recommended measures, including mass testing and any exclusions of other pupils or staff members, are made at this point. Responses and recommendations for each facility may well differ, depending on the circumstances identified by public health.”