Children more likely to get Covid-19 at home or in community than at school, Holohan says
At the end of September, Nphet decided to end school contact tracing – a decision that was met with opposition from organisations including teacher unions and members of the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group (ISAG).
However, despite most primary schools across the country now experiencing many outbreaks of Covid-19, Dr Tony Holohan defends the decision, saying children are more likely to catch Covid-19 at home or in the community.
According to the Independent, Holohan argues that data collected when schools resumed at the end of August, showed that Covid-19 positivity levels in primary schools decreased as testing increased.
“We had clear evidence when schools resumed - it was the first time we saw school resumption with high levels of Delta transmission – the level of testing in that age group went very, very high," Holohan told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme yesterday.
“We had a huge increase in the number of people having PCR tests in the 5–12-year age group and what actually happened is the test positivity fell significantly."
However, now an INTO survey has revealed that in the first two weeks of this month, a minimum of 3,726 pupils and 605 teachers tested positive for Covid-19 – figures which the union said prove that contact tracing must be resumed in school settings.
Speaking on TV yesterday, Dr Holohan admitted that the increased testing meant more cases were identified but said that it “wasn’t a true increase in the underlying incidence of the disease”.
He argued that international research shows when schools follow public health measures “really, really well”, it helps to make them “low-risk situations in relative terms”.
“The reason that children in the 5-12-year age group are getting infections, they’re for the most part picking this infection up in the community and at home rather than necessarily transmitting it in the school,” he added.
"Schools principals have been 'abandoned' by public health"
However, speaking on the same programme, INTO general secretary John Boyle said principals have been “abandoned” by public health.
“The public health supports that were there until the 27th of September were serving the system well," Boyle stated.
"Schools were open last year for 30 out of 37 weeks. The case numbers were a hell of a lot lower than now. Then Delta came in at the beginning of September to schools and it has really caused massive difficulties and we have nobody to help us. We can’t even get a call from public health. So, principals are abandoned and left on their own to try and deal with it and they’re not qualified to do so."
Mr Boyle was quick to point out that his union and its members want to keep schools open, but a number of key interventions are needed to support the sector.
This support, he argued, include sourcing more substitutes teachers to cover sick leave, increasing the amount of CO2 monitors and HEPA filters in schools and the return of routine contact tracing.