Health Chiefs Warn Mixing Outside Of School Hours Causing Spike

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Too much socialising outside school hours is being blamed for the rise in COVID cases among children, health chiefs have said.

Some national schools have independently decided to close due to large outbreaks – without seeking prior approval from the Department of Education.

But Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan on Wednesday night refused to accept that the surge in cases among primary school children was due to mixing within the classroom.

Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan on Wednesday night refused to accept that the surge in cases among primary school children was due to mixing within the classroom. Pic: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

He said the measures taken in schools had ensured that ‘transmission is maintained at a relatively low risk’.

‘Activity outside the school place has played a very important role in those kinds of transmissions,’ he said.

Professor Philip Nolan also told Wednesday night’s health briefing that infected children are significantly less likely to transmit COVID-19 than an unvaccinated adult.

Professor Philip Nolan told Wednesday night’s health briefing that infected children are significantly less likely to transmit COVID-19 than an unvaccinated adult. Pic: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

However, John Boyle, general secretary of the Irish National Teaching Organisation (INTO), believes that a lack of Government supports in schools is a factor in this recent spike. He said: ‘Schools are doing their best to keep their school communities safe, despite being stripped of public health supports which were instrumental in keeping our schools open safely for most of the last school year.

‘We are meeting with the Department of Education this week to discuss latest developments, the very high level of infection among five to 12-year-olds and plans for safeguarding schools from Halloween to Christmas.’

Dr Holohan was also asked whether trick-or-treating can be carried out safely this Halloween.

John Boyle, general secretary of the Irish National Teaching Organisation (INTO), believes that a lack of Government supports in schools is a factor in this recent spike. Pic: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

However, he urged parents and children to be aware of any risks when celebrating Halloween.

Meanwhile, the Department of Education is ordering any school that has decided to close due to outbreaks to reopen immediately.

CBS primary school in Wexford town told parents on Monday that it had no choice but to keep its doors closed until November after more than 30 cases of the virus were detected.

Principal Vicky Barron said that remote learning would start instead, but just two days later the school reversed its decision and reopened as normal. It’s understood this was due to a blunt directive from the department.

Dr Holohan urged parents and children to be aware of any risks when celebrating Halloween. Pic: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

However, Ms Barron said that concerned parents will not be pressured into bringing their children back. She tweeted: ‘Today some parents will choose to send their children in. Some will not.

‘We will not bully anyone into making either decision. Parents have the autonomy to do what is right for their child. We respect that. They trust us and know we care. And today… we will just do our best.’

Another primary school, Hollywood National School in Co. Wicklow, closed earlier this week after an outbreak was reported.

However, it is not yet known whether the school will continue to defy the department’s advice as attempts to reach Principal Séamas Ó Briain were unsuccessful on Wednesday night.

When asked about the issue of schools in the Dáil on Wednesday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that Dr Holohan told him that the return to schools has ‘worked well’. Pic: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

When asked about the issue of schools in the Dáil on Wednesday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that Dr Holohan told him that the return to schools has ‘worked well’.

Mr Martin later told the Dáil that the contact tracing regime in schools has been guided by public health advice.

Social Democrats’ education spokesman Gary Gannon had raised concerns about a lack of substitute teachers and a lack of CO2 monitors in classrooms.

Deputy Gannon said that the Government was ‘burying its head in the sand’ regarding the situation in schools. ‘Schools are the one place where we’re told the virus isn’t actually raging, despite it happening everywhere else.

Social Democrats’ education spokesman Gary Gannon had raised concerns about a lack of substitute teachers and a lack of CO2 monitors in classrooms. Pic: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

‘It is the one place in the country we don’t have effective testing and tracing. We have now a ridiculous scenario where some schools who can afford it or parents who can afford to donate the money, now have air filtration devices in the classroom.’

Labour’s education spokesman Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said that the Department of Education needs to be ‘flexible’ with schools. He said: ‘The Department has to realise that schools, principals and boards of management are doing their best in a very difficult situation.

‘It goes against their every instinct [to close a school].

‘Public health teams need to be in much more regular contact with schools. If a situation arises where a school has to make this determination that the school they have to close, the Department and the HSE need to understand, work with the school and not make demands that are unreasonable.’

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said that the Department of Education needs to ‘show respect’ for schools making decisions as they are seeing the issues ‘on the ground’ first hand. A spokesman for the Department of Education reiterated on Wednesday that evidence shows that ‘schools are low-risk environments’.





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