Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said the Government is considering resuming contact tracing in primary schools as cases remain high nationwide.
Contact tracing for schoolchildren was stopped in September after scientists concluded that kids were generally becoming infected outside of the classroom environment. Concerns were also raised about the effect isolation was having on the education of those children who tested positive.
When asked by Newstalk if the decision to stop contract tracing in schools had led to a rise in case numbers, Minister Donnelly said he did not believe that was the case. Nevertheless, he said some form of contact tracing could be reintroduced:
“The premise of that question is cases are being driven by them recommending stopping contact tracing. They [the HSE] would refute the premise of that entirely. What they would say, again, is that the schools are low risk environments and households are the higher risk environments.
“So there’s new ECDC guidelines on exactly these things. So, for example, they look at testing within pods - or if you get a certain number of positive tests within a classroom, that you can test everyone within a classroom. So these are exactly the things that we are looking at right now.”
No decision has yet been made but Minister Donnelly said it was “an ongoing conversation between Minister [for Education] Norma Foley, Dr Holohan and myself as to using rapid testing for contact tracing.”
'Vast majority of that infection is happening in households'
He also keen to stress that overall schools are safe environments:
“The data is showing very, very clearly that there is infection and the vast majority of that infection is happening in households. It’s not happening in the schools.
“But what was happening was kids were being taken out of school for 10 days time which obviously is very, very damaging.
“The infections, however, are going up. All of the data says they are not going up because of infections in the schools. They are going up because of infections outside the schools… As I say, the data is very, very clear, the schools are low-risk environments.”
Minister Donnelly said that an increase in cases could be linked to the mid-term break when people began to socialise more with other households.
“Nonetheless, cases are rising, there has been a call for rapid testing to be used and it is something we’re looking at deploying.”
Main image: School children are on their way to school. Picture by: Arne Dedert/dpa