The Minister for Health has said the reopening of schools has been “one of the real success stories” of the pandemic so far.
Earlier this week, the Department of Health revealed that 352 coronavirus cases had been linked to schools and childcare facilities since they reopened.
According to the figures, 12, 658 adults and children at more than 500 schools and crèches have been tested since reopening.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, the Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the positivity rate in schools is nearly three times lower than it is in the community.
“Schools have been one of the real success stories of this largely down to the work of the principals, the teachers and the pupils because they have had to go through a lot,” he said.
“Here is where we are at with schools. 90% of schools have had no engagement with public health. At the other one-in-ten, where mass testing has been conducted, the positivity rate is 2.8%.
“Here is the really important bit. It is 2.8% positivity in schools and it is nearly three times that amount in the community.
“So, what the public health officials are saying is that the rise in cases in schools is not due to what is happening in the schools. In fact, it is lower; it is much lower in the schools. It is because the virus is rising exponentially in the community
“So, it has been a very, very positive story and the strong and unambiguous advice I have from NPHET, from the public health officials and from the educators is to keep the schools open.”
The national positivity rate currently stands at 7.1% - meaning the rate is 2.5 times lower in the school setting.
Minister Donnelly said there is “mounting evidence” highlighting the educational, social, psychological damage caused to children by school shutdowns.
“Particularly schools in lower income areas,” he said. “I talk to teachers who are saying that the impact of the last lockdown on the kids they teach has been immense.
“It is really important that the schools stay open and the evidence I have from public health and the Department of Education is that the positivity rates are several times lower in the schools than in the community and that is really important.”
Stay at home
The Health Minister said the core message of the new level five restrictions is for everyone to stay at home wherever possible.
He said this applies to university students who can only travel home at weekends for essential purposes.
He also clarified that the ‘support bubble’ system only applies to people who live alone or are at-risk of social isolation or mental ill-health.
The system allows people to form an extended household with the residents of one other home.
“If you have five students living together that is not a single adult household so they can’t form bubbles with others,” said Minister Donnelly
“Now, if there is a single adult household, that person could form a bubble with them. But those five, they don’t get to form five separate bubbles – that is not how it works.
“The law for them is the same as the law for everybody else, which is stay at home. Their home is where they are living for college – other than for the exceptions which are laid out.
“They cannot return to their families unless it is for one of the reasons given. For example, if a student has an elderly relative; say an elderly mum or dad who is at home and who genuinely needs help and they need to go home and they need help them at the weekend that is absolutely fine.
“But if it is just for a visit home, for the next six weeks, that is not allowed.”
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