Confusion reigns for parents over school rules on Covid-19

Balancing public health against educational attainment and children’s wellbeing will be tricky in the coming months, so says Kathriona Devereux in her weekly column
Confusion reigns for parents over school rules on Covid-19

When Kathriona heard kids can go to school with runny noses if generally well, she searched the HSE website for clarity. iStock

FOUR weeks into the new school term and the parents of primary kids are resigning themselves to a long winter. When every cold, cough and sore throat may mean multiple missed school days and more and more Covid-19 tests.

Snots and symptoms at the breakfast table will start hushed and hurried discussions about how sick little Johnny really is. He may be a) totally grand and should go to school, or b) the latest Covid case to add to the national caseload.

People will be making these assessments regularly and the scramble to rearrange work and other plans might inform what answer parents plumb for.

The plan to not test or isolate school close contacts may just add to the uncertainty. Already we have heard from teachers and principals worried about what these new rules will bring in terms of school outbreaks, while other teachers worry about the huge rate of absenteeism as children wait for Covid-19 test results from a pressured testing system.

Balancing public health against educational attainment and children’s wellbeing will be tricky in the coming months. 

Having thousands of kids needlessly sitting at home because they are close contacts is not a situation that should continue, but I wonder why the solution doesn’t involve more frequent interval testing, with antigen tests to rule out infection, rather than abandoning close contact tracing and isolating.

I think I’d like to know if there has been a positive case in my child’s class, but with the new relaxation of rules I’m not sure I will.

The system clearly was overwhelmed in the last few weeks, as rightly vigilant parents pulled their kids out of school to confirm that their sniffles and coughs were just one of the minor winter illnesses kids get at this time of the year.

In Cork, we were waiting 24 hours to get a test appointment and a further 28 hours for the results. That meant three days off school to be told ‘you’re grand’.

When I heard on the radio that kids can go to school with runny noses if generally well, I searched the HSE website for a bit more clarity. It says: “It’s OK to send your child to school or childcare if runny nose or sneezing are the only symptoms they have. But if your child has a runny nose and feels unwell or is off form, they should stay at home.”

We’d better not let the children of Ireland read this or they’ll be feigning all sorts of lurgy to accompany their sniffles and wrangle a day off school.

The HSE website says that a “runny nose or sneezing on their own are more likely to be symptoms of a cold or other viral infection. It’s normal for a child to have eight or more colds a year. There are hundreds of different cold viruses.”

In another part of the website, the HSE advises keeping your child home if they have even very mild symptoms of Covid-19 and explains that symptoms of it can be similar to symptoms of cold, flu or hayfever, with the most common symptoms being fever, dry cough and fatigue and less common symptoms including loss or change of sense of taste or smell, blocked nose, conjunctivitis, sore throat, headache, muscle or joint pain, vomiting or diarrhoea.

On another page, it explains how coughs in children can be caused by mucus and nasal drips. And then I stopped reading because I was getting confused.

So my current personal interpretation is that if your child has a runny nose or sneezing, they can go to school, unless they are clearly unwell with a cough and fever.

However, if parents knew that there was a confirmed positive case in the classroom, surely that would inform their decision-making and they might be more cautious sending their mildly symptomatic child to school or not.

This academic year will be like no other and all we can do is cross our fingers that the positivity rate continues to fall in the primary school population.

I’m sure there are plenty more Covid tests for kids on the horizon, I just hope the bribe of a lollipop for enduring yet another cotton bud up the nose continues to work!

Back to college

Last week, I made my first work trip to Dublin since March, 2020, for meetings with real, in the flesh, people. It was World Car Free day so I threw my bike onto the train and spent a lot of time cycling from meetings to meetings, marveling at all the new bike infrastructure in Dublin town.

From Heuston Station to O’Connell Bridge, there is a protected segregated bike lane, and there is even a section right outside the Four Courts, where newly-planted hedging protects cyclists from the fumes of idling engines and the fuming stares of motorists confined to one lane of very slow moving traffic.

When I first moved to Dublin as a student in 1997, cycling along the quays was a dangerous undertaking and for years I never contemplated it, such was my fear of being flattened by a heavy goods vehicle.

Eventually, my frustration at waiting for buses that never materialised outweighed my fear and sheer impatience spurred me to get on my bike.

Just like Cork, the bike infrastructure and culture in Dublin has completely transformed in the last 20 years.

But one issue that has remained exactly the same is the student accommodation crises.

September in Dublin always reminds me of the new academic year and settling into whatever bedsit, house share or digs I could find. I lived in some outrageous kips over the years, paying eye-watering sums for rooms that had mushrooms growing in the wardrobes and no central heating.

It is a disgrace that 20 years later students face such uncertainty around housing and that landlords are not regulated strictly to provide quality accommodation at a fair price.

Hopefully, it won’t take another 20 years to sort out that problem!

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