Cork principal shocked by 'frightening' changes to tracing and testing guidelines

Cork principal shocked by 'frightening' changes to tracing and testing guidelines

Following advice from chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan, automatic contact tracing of close contacts in childcare facilities and primary education (not including special education facilities) will be discontinued from Monday.

A CORK primary school principal has described as “frightening” the proposed changes to contact tracing arrangements in primary schools, which are due to be introduced next Monday, September 27.

Following advice from chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan, automatic contact tracing of close contacts in childcare facilities and primary education (not including special education facilities) will be discontinued from Monday.

Dr Tony Holohan: School reopening has not led to an increase in transmission of Covid
Dr Tony Holohan: School reopening has not led to an increase in transmission of Covid

Children aged 12 or under, who are identified as close contacts in childcare, educational settings, special education settings, or other non-household settings, and who are asymptomatic, will no longer be required to restrict movements unless indicated by the local public health team.

Testing of asymptomatic children in childcare facilities and primary education will be discontinued. This does not include special education facilities.

Scoil Padre Pio principal Ken Foley said yesterday’s announcement came as a shock.

“This announcement is frightening,” he said. “It is a big shock, as every one of us is playing our part. We are very concerned.”

Dr Holohan said yesterday: “Given the importance of education for our children, we feel that now is the right time to evolve our approach to the public health management of Covid-19 in educational settings.

“We have been closely monitoring the incidence of Covid-19 and we are reassured that the reopening of schools has not led to an increase in transmission of Covid-19 amongst school-going children or more widely across the population.” he said.

“This is good news for students, parents, and all those involved in the education of our children. As always, we will keep disease transmission in the population under review.”

The proposed changes come in the aftermath of nine confirmed outbreaks in primary schools in Cork and Kerry last week, which represent almost 50% of new outbreaks in the region during that time.

Changes a new worry 

Mr Foley said the news represents a “new worry” for staff members, students, and parents. “I have no doubt that the outbreaks will increase in schools as a result of this change,” he said.

“We have been doing very well in our school, but this news has created a new worry for us.

“We are very upset.

“The increase in Covid outbreaks — particularly in primary schools — has been frightening.

“There are vulnerable and compromised students in all our schools, and our teachers are interacting with pupils on a daily basis. This is a concern for both parents and teachers.”

Other recommendations scheduled to be enforced from next Monday include that children aged 12 years or under who are identified as household close contacts in household settings will still be required to restrict movements and get tested, regardless of symptomatic status.

Public health advice remains that any child aged 12 years or under who displays symptoms consistent with Covid-19 should rapidly self-isolate and not attend school or socialise until 48 hours after they are symptom-free.

The INTO has proposed that any changes should be made from Monday, November 1, when schools reopen after the mid-term break.
The INTO has proposed that any changes should be made from Monday, November 1, when schools reopen after the mid-term break.

INTO calls for deferral of changes 

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation has reacted by saying that the changes to contact-tracing arrangements in primary schools should be deferred until reliable data on outbreaks in primary schools is available.

The INTO has proposed that any changes should be made from Monday, November 1, when schools reopen after the mid-term break.

The union said this would allow for the proposed changes to be implemented in an orderly fashion.

The INTO has also called for the proposed changes to be “phased in and based on complete data on mass testing in schools”.

The union has further warned that the changes “could cause mass confusion for school principals, staff, parents, and children”.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said: “Throughout the pandemic, we have done our utmost to protect our school communities from the serious risks posed by Covid-19.

“The latest data indicates that schools continue to be a low-risk environment for the transmission of Covid-19.

“I am happy to announce these significant updates to contact tracing in our school environments.

“If you have any concerns or notice symptoms in members of your family, the public health advice remains to self-isolate and arrange a test as soon as possible.

“You should not attend school, or work, or socialise.”

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