The Department has published guidelines to support schools in making adapted education provision for those children who cannot return to school because they are medically certified as being at very high risk to Covid-19. The Health Protection Surveillance Centre and the HSE have published guidance on the return to school of at-risk groups. The advice confirms that the vast majority of children can return to school and it is important for the overall health and well-being of children to attend school. This guidance provides that children with immediate family members, including parents, in the high-risk and very high-risk categories can return to school and that this is important for the child's overall well-being. This is consistent with public health advice internationally on at-risk family members.
The best way to protect against Covid-19 is for households to continue to follow all current public health advice on how to minimise the risk of infection. This includes regular hand washing, cough etiquette and social distancing. It should be noted that the public health evidence regarding the initial return to school is positive and highlights that schools are relatively low-risk environments for Covid-19. This is confirmed on a regular basis.
My Department has in place an enhanced occupational health service, OHS. The current OHS provider is Medmark Occupational Healthcare Limited. Medmark has a process in place for school staff with health concerns about the risk to them of serious illness from contracting Covid-19 through workplace attendance. The risk categorisation is comprehensive and follows the same process that is being applied across other sectors.
To date, more than 1,700 teachers, SNAs and school staff have been accessed by Medmark under this scheme. A person who is not satisfied with the outcome of this process may apply to have the case reviewed by a further panel of medical experts. The Department has developed and prepared a comprehensive response to support the well-being of school communities. NEPS is working with schools to support them to meet the needs of their pupils, especially pupils who are anxious at this time.