The Acting Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Ronan Glynn, has warned that there will be cases of Covid-19 among children over the coming days and weeks, but has stressed that the benefits of returning to school outweigh the risks.
In an open letter addressed to parents and guardians, Dr Glynn said that he was very aware that many people were worried about the reopening of schools and the associated risk of Covid-19 for their children.
“This concern is natural and is to be fully expected after a period of six months during which we have all had to adapt to the challenges posed by Covid-19,” he said.
However, Dr Glynn stressed that the decision to reopen schools has not been taken lightly and said it has been based on guidance produced by international bodies including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) as well as scientific evidence regarding the risk of Covid-19 in school children and staff; the experience of other countries that have not closed, or have reopened, their schools; Ireland’s own experience having reopened childcare settings and summer camps since June; and evidence regarding the importance of school for the overall health and wellbeing of children.
“International evidence shows us that child-to-child and child-to-adult transmission of Covid-19 in schools is uncommon. In addition, our own experience to date in Ireland, and indeed that reported internationally, demonstrates that for the overwhelming majority of children who are diagnosed with Covid-19, their symptoms will be mild,” Dr Glynn said.
The Acting CMO said that the importance of schools for the overall health and wellbeing of children cannot be overstated, saying that the risk of Covid-19 has been carefully weighed against the very real harm that can be caused by sustained school closures.
"Schools play a fundamental role in the social life of children; they are where children are educated, make friends, share interests, learn social skills like self-confidence and empathy, and participate in sport and cultural activities," he said.
Dr Glynn said that there are "no zero risk options for reopening schools or indeed any other environment” and that the aim, therefore, is to reopen in as safe a way as possible by ensuring that all appropriate public health measures such as physical distancing, hand washing and respiratory hygiene are implemented where appropriate.
“There will be cases of Covid-19 among children over the coming days and weeks, as there have been throughout this pandemic to date. But when this happens our public health teams in the HSE will respond and liaise closely with the school involved and ensure that all necessary measures are taken to protect other students and school staff,” he said.
In the letter, the Acting CMO also paid tribute to teachers, principals and school staff who he said have worked so hard to ensure that schools are ready to reopen, and thanked parents and guardians for “all you have done to keep your family and our communities safe over the past seven months.”
The publication of the letter comes as schools across Cork city and county re-open their doors to students for the first time in almost six months.
Dr Glynn said that while it is okay to send a child to school or childcare if they only have a runny nose or a sneeze, if parents or guardians have any concerns that their child has symptoms of Covid-19 - fever, cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell – they should keep them at home until they have spoken with their GP by phone.
Information for parents and guardians is available at gov.ie/backtoschool and hse.ie.