Calls for better testing as Cork school told maskless students were not close contacts with SNA despite 'intimate care level'

Calls for better testing as Cork school told maskless students were not close contacts with SNA despite 'intimate care level'

Mr Ó Laoghaire said he is repeatedly being told of situations where school staff who are close contacts are only being informed several days after a positive test arrives. 

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire has called for significant improvements in the testing and tracing regime. 

He was speaking following a report today that Cork students who have been in receipt of support from a special needs assistant (SNA) who tested positive have not been deemed close contacts.

“It is difficult to imagine - given the intense and very often close and intimate support offered by SNAs - that children who were being supported by an SNA, and who were not wearing masks, were not deemed close contacts," Mr Ó Laoghaire said. 

“This is not the first such example I have heard and there is increasing concern among school staff I speak to that the testing and tracing regime is inadequate." 

According to today's Irish Examiner, Cork secondary school students in class with an SNA who tested positive for Covid-19 were not deemed close contacts by the HSE, even though they were not wearing masks.

"An SNA who is positive worked side by side, hand-feeding, and toileting, at an intimate care level with some of these students," a staff member said. "Even when we told the HSE they didn't wear masks, they said they're not close contacts." 

Mr Ó Laoghaire said he is repeatedly being told of situations where school staff who are close contacts are only being informed several days after a positive test arrives. 

"They are concerned that in the interim - because they have been kept in the dark - they have not been able to limit their movements within the school," he said. "Others are concerned that there are instances where they have not been deemed a close contact, even though they have been in close proximity to a Covid-positive student.

“Teachers and school staff deserve to feel safe in their workplace. These delays are not good enough.

“Frankly, some have expressed a view and a fear to me, that a different and a lesser approach is being taken to who is and isn’t a close contact in schools. I would hope very much that that fear can be dispelled. But that can only be done by ensuing a very rigorous and comprehensive approach to testing and in particular tracing in schools, and ensuring the confidence of school staff, students and families in the system." 

In a statement, the HSE said: "It is important to note that controlled school/work settings may have fewer close contacts identified because of the nature of compliance with social distancing, hand hygiene etc. compared to social contacts/settings.

"In any instance where a case of Covid-19 is linked to an educational facility, public health professionals speak directly with the person, or family as appropriate, and ask them about their contacts.

"Children who are not identified as a close contact do not need a test, and can continue to attend school. Likewise with staff."

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