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18th Apr 2023

Closing schools should be avoided during pandemics according to new study

Disrupting schools should be the last resort.

Closing Irish schools should be the last resort to control the spread of viruses like Covid-19, new HSE research has revealed.

The new study found that there was a limited spread of the virus in Irish schools during the pandemic.

It claims that less than 3% of close contacts during the 2020-21 school year had tested positive for Covid-19.

According to, one of the report’s authors, Ciara Kelly of the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre, said schools were “low-risk settings”.

She said: “The school outbreaks that we detected were generally small with 92% of outbreaks each comprising less than 10 cases.”

Dr. Kelly believes that closing schools should always be avoided as it causes detrimental delays in children’s education and social development.

The study acknowledged that although the rate at which the Covid-19 virus spread in schools is unclear, other research shows the virus had lower levels of transmission in schools than in the general population.

Control measures that the government and each school implemented had a major part to play in this.

The spread in schools may have been overestimated.

The study identified 21,727 confirmed cases in 5-18-year-olds in Ireland during the 2020-21 school year. This represented 2.4% of that age group overall.

They accounted for 18.2% of all Covid-19 cases during that time rising from 15.5% in the first term to 23.9% in the third term.

This could be explained by the emergence of different and more contagious Covid-19 variants.

The new study is published in a European Journal on infectious diseases called Eurosurveillance.

It said in total 100,474 close contacts were tested in 1,771 schools during the 2020-2021 school year and 2,373 were confirmed as positive.

That equated to an overall positivity rate of 2.4%.

Another interesting finding was that students had a significantly higher positivity rate than staff in primary and special schools.

However, staff had a higher positivity rate in post-primary schools.

Students represented 90.5% of schools’ close contacts with 9.5% made up of school staff.

The study claims that 92% of Covid-19 outbreaks involved less than 10 cases.

It also revealed that 44.7% of all schools reported at least one confirmed case attended school during the infectious period after close school contacts were identified.

Dr. Ciara Kelly said it was possible that the transmission of the virus in schools might have been overestimated. Pupils may have become infected from social activities or on school transport.

She said in the event of another pandemic, closing schools should be the last resort.

She said the harms and benefits linked to disrupting kids’ education must be considered ahead of making any changes.

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