I propose to take Questions Nos. 110 and 111 together.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre and the HSE have published guidance for managing potential cases of COVID-19 in educational settings, which includes the testing strategy within an educational facility ‘Schools Pathway for COVID-19, the Public Health approach’ https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/a0bff-reopening-our-primary-and-special-schools/.
It is important to note that the response to confirmed cases or outbreaks of COVID-19 in the community or in a school is the responsibility of, and will be led and managed by, Public Health HSE. All decisions as to appropriate actions following a confirmed case or outbreak will be made by their teams in the context of a full Public Health Risk Assessment procedure. This involves the HSE Department of Public Health liaising directly with the designated school contact, usually the school principal. This practice ensures that no principal is burdened with the responsibility of making a public health decision.
Should a school be notified of a positive case, Schools should await a call from the Dept. of Public Health. This will usually be on the same day but may be on the following day depending on their assessment. This is safe, as the case is no longer within the school setting, and therefore the risk of onward transmission from this case is no longer there. If the case was not in the school setting whilst infectious, then public health will not routinely call the school.
Public Health will carry out a Public Health Risk Assessment (PHRA) with the school and advise the school of what actions are necessary.
My Department is working closely with the HSE Department of Public Health to ensure that public health measures are acted upon speedily by schools and areas of concerns raised by schools are addressed. As part of this close collaboration, the HSE Department of Public Health are in the process of establishing school focused teams in their respective public health areas to further assist schools while risk assessment are being conducted and to provide assistance and guidance to schools in instances where members of the school community may be a suspected or confirmed case.
This is an important measure of reassurance and support for schools on their return from mid-term break. In the interim My Department will liaise with individual schools in the event of a suspect or confirmed outbreak to ensure that Public Health teams are alerted so that appropriate follow up action is taken.
My Department will also continue to work with the HSE Department of Public Health to ensure that testing is prioritised for those close contacts within the school community of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
It is important to note that the experience of public health to date is that transmission rates of Covid-19 in schools are low, much lower than the rate currently in the community. This is a result of the effectiveness of the public health guidelines for schools and the successful implementation and adherence of all in the school community to the guidelines.