Pressure is on primary schools as new plan for antigen testing seeks to keep classes open

Covid’s grip is putting primary schools under increasing pressure as they await the roll-out of an antigen testing programme to help curb its spread.

he ‘test to stay’ system in primary schools will be up and running by Monday, November 29, and will allow asymptomatic pupils who are close contacts to remain in school unless they have a positive antigen test.

Meanwhile, a Co Meath primary school, Scoil Eoin Báiste in Nobber, had to ask two classes to stay at home yesterday because they couldn’t find substitutes to replace absent teachers.

The spread of Covid among children aged five to 12 has school principals battling hard to ensure infection doesn’t take hold in their schools.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said infection levels were rising in schools and in the wider community at an alarming rate.

It is a particular problem in primary schools where pupils are not vaccinated and from which HSE testing and contact tracing supports were withdrawn in September

In the two-week period, November 3-16, a total of 8,625 primary-aged children were confirmed as Covid positive, up from 4,888 in the last fortnight of October.

On a related front, Covid is also blamed for unusually high staff absenteeism, making it difficult – impossible in some cases – to find enough substitutes to provide cover,

Apart from illness, absences are attributed to teachers with symptoms taking the advice to stay at home or following the new rule for asymptomatic, fully vaccinated household contacts to restrict movements for five days.

Under the antigen testing scheme, pupils in a classroom pod where another child has tested positive for Covid will remain at school, unless they have symptoms or have a ­positive antigen test.

Pupils with symptoms should not be at school.

The ‘test to stay’ approach is aimed at minimising lost tuition time. Under the previous test and tracing system, pupils who were close contacts stayed at home for 10 days, regardless of whether they had symptoms.

The programme will not involve testing in school, but if a child has a positive PCR test, parents will be asked to notify the principal.

The principal will advise parents of other children in the pod, but personal details of the child will not be shared.

The parents will be offered the option of free antigen tests for their child, delivered to their home.

If two or more cases arise in a class within a seven-day period, outside of a single pod, antigen testing can be offered to the full class.

Parents will be asked to test the child three times over five days, at two-day intervals,

It won’t be mandatory for children to participate in antigen testing, and pupils who are in a pod where a child has tested positive can attend school, whether they participate or not – provided they don’t have symptoms.

Schools will receive detailed information next week and there will also be a publicity campaign aimed at parents.

Public health advice varies, depending on whether a child is a school close contact or a household close contact. Unvaccinated people of all ages who are household contacts of a case must restrict movements, and stay out of school, or work, for 10 days and have two PCR tests.

This is because households are deemed the highest risk for transmission, while schools are classified low risk.

Education Minister Norma Foley said it was “important that everyone continues to follow public health advice”.

The INTO welcomed the move and said it would be looking closely at the detail.

Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland

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