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Covid-19 Pandemic

Dáil Éireann Debate, Friday - 3 December 2021

Friday, 3 December 2021

Questions (127, 139)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

127. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Health if he will clarify the role of public health teams in contact tracing in school settings. [59015/21]

View answer

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

139. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Health if the HSE will provide greater support to school leaders who are experiencing Covid-19 cases in their school. [59016/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 127 and 139 together.

The HSE has worked to ensure that the measures in place in schools are robust and prioritise the safety of staff and children.

In line with recommendations from the National Public Health Emergency Team, it was agreed that automatic contact tracing of asymptomatic close contacts in children aged over 3 months and less than 13 years, in Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School Age Childcare (SAC) facilities, primary education and social and sporting groups was no longer recommended.

This means that Public Health Risk Assessments are no longer routinely undertaken in these settings, with the exception of Special Education Needs (SEN) facilities. However, Public Health teams continue to respond to outbreaks and infection incidents in certain circumstances where considered clinically appropriate. The HSE continue to provide a dedicated phoneline for school Principals in circumstances where assistance is required from Public Health in relation to a confirmed case of Covid-19 within their school community. Schools are controlled settings and the approach to testing and contact tracing is risk-based in relation to the setting, age-group and the existence of other preventive measures. 

As case numbers increase in younger age groups, the situation in our schools continues to be monitored closely. From Monday 29th November, as an additional measure to support parents and schools, free antigen tests are now offered for primary school children who are identified as close contacts as part of a pod in which there was a confirmed case of COVID-19. Where two or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 occur in a class within a seven-day period, outside of a single pod, antigen testing will be offered to the full class. All children in the pod can continue to attend school as long as they remain asymptomatic and they do not have a positive COVID-19 antigen or PCR test result.

As an additional precautionary measure for staff working in the classroom, where there is a confirmed case in a pod, an SNA or teacher working closely with children in the pod may also avail of the antigen tests and request them in the same way as parents/guardians are instructed. Where there is an additional case in a second pod within seven days, then the class teacher and other staff members working in the classroom may also avail of the antigen tests .This is an entirely voluntary measure and staff should continue to attend the workplace unless they develop symptoms or receive a detected result on the antigen test.

Further information on antigen tests for primary school children is available on the HSE website as follows: www2.hse.ie/conditions/covid19/testing/antigen-tests-for-primary-school-children/.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) has published guidance on 'COVID-19 Infection Prevention and Control guidance for Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare settings during the COVID-19 Pandemic' which is available as follows: www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/guidance/childcareguidance/Guidance%20for%20services%20providing%20childcare%20services.pdf.

The role of testing and contact tracing, as part of the wider public health response, has been under ongoing review throughout the pandemic and will continue to be reviewed and amended in line with the epidemiological profile of the disease, its impact on healthcare utilisation and outcomes, the vaccination status of the population and ECDC guidance.

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