The Department of Education is guided by Public Health as to the mitigation measures needed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in our schools. The aim of all of the Covid-19 infection prevention and control measures that have been put in place for schools is to support schools to operate safely and prevent the introduction of Covid-19 and also the onward of transmission of Covid-19 among the school community. These measures protect pupils, their parents and school staff and are very effective when adhered to. Schools are continuing to operate the infection prevention and control measures that are in place. These measure include hand hygiene, physical distancing and staying at home if you are unwell. Significant resources have been provided to schools to support this.
Decisions regarding contact tracing are taken by the Department of Health and Public Health. Earlier this year NPHET recommended that routine contact tracing would cease for children under 12 with the exception of special education settings, and children over 12 where testing and tracing remains in place.
It is important we continue to prioritise children’s opportunity to avail of the social and academic opportunities which school allows. Public health teams are continuously monitoring the situation in schools, and respond to schools as necessary. As part of this monitoring, weekly epidemiological reports on COVID-19 cases and COVID-19 mass testing in schools in Ireland are published by the Health Surveillance Protection Centre.
As we move through this pandemic, advice will be recommended by NPHET and the Government in terms of appropriate policy informed by both evidence and experience. For example, the Department of Health, the HSE and the Department of Education working together have announced that antigen tests will be made available to children in a primary school pod, where a child in the pod is 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. The tests will be sent to the children’s parents.
School principals will not be required by the HSE to gather evidence of participation or of any antigen test results. Furthermore participation in antigen testing is not mandatory. Information materials for all parents and principals will be shared with schools and publicised directly to parents and this programme will commence shortly. Parents will be able to order these tests free of charge through a helpline operated by the HSE.