The number of creches and childcare facilities being hit by Covid-19 has soared by 500pc in just six weeks as the virus sweeps through communities around the country.
total of 98 childcare settings have seen cases of Covid in just over a fortnight, with early years centres now accounting for almost one in 10 detections of the virus in children under four years old.
The Indo Daily: Chaos in the classroom – Covid, kids and antigen kits
Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed in the Dáil yesterday that antigen testing will now be extended to créches and Montessoris. The regime begins in schools from Monday. He said testing will be “fine tuned” for the “early childhood sector”.
Meanwhile, data from Tusla, the HSE and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre seen by the Irish Independent revealed that rates of Covid-19 notifications have increased by more than 500pc in childcare settings over the past six weeks.
Notifications soared from 33 in early October to 226 for the week ending November 12.
Over the same period, the number of services affected has more than doubled – from 43 to 98 – with some creches struggling to stay open because of staff either becoming ill or having to isolate.
In a six-week period from early October to mid-November, the number of cases found in early learning and childcare settings accounted for almost one in 10 (8.6pc) of the total number of children under four years of age who caught the virus.
Public health officials have insisted that children are catching the virus in community and home settings, not in schools and creches.
However, childcare workers feel they are being left exposed given the cessation of contact tracing in September.
It emerged that, in one creche, 13 children in a class pod tested positive for Covid-19 after an adult care worker complained of feeling unwell. All the children were found to be asymptomatic.
However, the care worker – who is believed to have contracted the virus from a child – was quite ill, although they did not require hospitalisation.
Three of four adult care workers at the facility subsequently tested positive for the virus.
Childcare providers warned they need urgent Government support, given the strain of the alarming surge in virus cases.
Association of Childcare Professionals (ACP) national board member, Paula Donohoe, called for the immediate reintroduction of testing and contact tracing in childcare settings.
“Antigen testing is a step in the right direction but the full reinstatement of contact tracing is the only way we can definitively say we are actually catching all cases,” she said.
Some childcare operators warned their sector felt “forgotten” over recent weeks.
One ACP member pointed out that even if the Government successfully rolls out the juvenile Covid-19 vaccine for those aged five to 12 years early in the New Year, childcare workers will still be largely dealing with unvaccinated children in those aged under five years.
The European Medicines Agency is due to rule on use of vaccines for children next week. However, the Taoiseach said that even if the juvenile vaccine is given the go-ahead, it is unlikely to be rolled out here for use before Christmas.
Meanwhile Education Minister Norma Foley has announced a raft of emergency measures to deal with the staffing crisis in primary schools caused by Covid-19. They will run all the way to the February mid-term break.
As well as agreement with third-level colleges to facilitate the release of student teachers to work in classrooms, professional development courses for teachers where a sub is required are being suspended until after the February break to help maintain staffing levels.
The teacher educators who are on secondment to Department of Education support services to run those courses are going back to fill gaps in classrooms.
Another 200 primary teaching posts are being created on supply panels from which schools can source substitutes for unexpected and short-term absences. That is on top of 100 posts that were authorised a month ago and brings the total number on panels to 680.
In an incentive to encourage more retired teachers to return to the classroom, they can now work until the end of this term without any consequence for their pension.
Other measures include allowing newly qualified teachers who secure posts on supply panels in the 2021/2022 academic year to complete the Droichead induction programme.
In exceptional circumstances where there is no sub available, teachers, known as Treorai, who host students on school placements, may provide sub cover for absences of a very short duration in their own school.