Cork expert: Reopening schools is a ‘dangerous piece of the jigsaw’

Cork expert: Reopening schools is a ‘dangerous piece of the jigsaw’

A Cork-based infectious disease expert has warned that reopening schools is a particularly ‘dangerous piece of the jigsaw’ of re-opening society and says in the absence of certain measures, could plunge Ireland into a second wave of Covid-19.

A Cork-based infectious disease expert has warned that reopening schools is a particularly ‘dangerous piece of the jigsaw’ of re-opening society and says in the absence of certain measures, could plunge Ireland into a second wave of Covid-19.

Professor Gerry Killeen, Research Chair in Applied Pathogen Ecology at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at University College Cork, highlighted how a number of transmission and superspreader events have been linked with schools all over the world and said educational settings can present particular challenges during outbreaks.

“The challenge with schools is it’s really kind of a hub of community activity.

“You’ve got teenagers who are, in terms of transmission potential, basically equivalent to adults and then you’ve got younger kids who are about half of that transmission potential of an adult, but if you put 30 of them in one room and then you don't make masks mandatory, then it’s really asking for trouble,” he said.

Prof. Gerry Killeen, AXA Research Chair in Applied Pathogen Ecology, UCC.Picture Denis Minihane.
Prof. Gerry Killeen, AXA Research Chair in Applied Pathogen Ecology, UCC.Picture Denis Minihane.

“If you think about how many families are involved, how many staff, how many families of the kids who attend.

"It really creates one of those really big opportunities for the virus to get itself around quite quickly,” he added.

Prof Killeen said that the reopening of schools forms part of the larger picture of reopening society, but that it was a particularly sensitive area for people because their children are involved, and there was a difficulty between wanting to ensure children do not miss out on education and they do not become ill.

“Schools fit into the bigger picture -it’s a particularly dangerous piece of the jigsaw, not for the kids themselves but for the whole community.

“School is less of a threat to the kids themselves and more of a threat to the surrounding community,” he explained.

Prof Killeen is one of a number of science and medicine experts in Ireland and abroad advocating for the incidence of Covid-19 across the island of Ireland to be reduced to zero before re-opening the country.

The infectious disease expert said he was concerned that with one more foot forward with the current reopening plan, “we’re going to get ourselves into trouble.” 

 “We need to re-assess this overall plan, ask what is our long-term strategy because phase 3 at best is, if we are very very lucky, we’ll stay where we are,” he said.

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