Jack Quann
Jack Quann

21.14 8 Sep 2021


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A school principal says the current system to combat COVID-19 in schools is 'a firefight and a hope'.

Simon Lewis is a primary school principal and host of the 'If I were the Minister for Education' podcast.

He was speaking as around 16,000 children are believed to be out of school, after being identified as close contacts of a confirmed coronavirus case.

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Some 580 secondary schools and 900 primary schools are affected.

Mr Lewis told The Hard Shoulder the system is taking too long.

"We've had a couple of cases already in the first couple of weeks - it's only September and I feel like it's June the way I am at the minute, I'm wrecked with it.

"It's not been absolutely chaotic but it's been slow, it's been a lot slower than I would have liked."

"I suppose my main frustration has been when we were alerted to a case, it was in the evening time from a parent.

"And we had to wait until 9 o'clock the next morning before we were able to contact a special principal hotline - it only opens at 9 o'clock in the morning.

"They take a couple of details, and then you have to wait up to 24 hours before someone comes back to you for contact tracing.

"So it can be quite a frustrating experience; I'm actually still in the middle of a case, too.

"I'm 48 hours after I was alerted and I still haven't got the final spreadsheet where I send off the close contacts, even though all my families who were close contacts have been informed verbally by me".

And he says schools do not have what they need to stay safe.

"We knew this was coming, and we've known this has been coming for a long time.

"I suppose this is sort of chickens coming home to roost territory here as far as I'm concerned.

"Ultimately it's now a firefight and a hope that we don't start another variant here in Ireland because of the inaction really and the lack of mitigation measures that we should have had".

He says there is "a lot of fantasy" around some measures, such as pods and two metre distancing in classrooms.

"The reality is we haven't been given enough to absolutely keep schools as safe from this virus as we should have been".

Test and trace 'under a lot of pressure'

Niamh O'Beirne is the HSE's national lead for testing and tracing. She says young children are now making up their biggest cohort.

"We saw on Monday 21,000 people come forward for testing in our community sites, about 19[,000] yesterday.

"And we look on track today for somewhere around 19 to 20,000.

"That's within our surge capacity but it's touching the top of our capacity.

"But it does seem to be meeting the demand within the same day - so people who want a test that particular day or early into the following morning they're getting their test appointment".

But she says complex tracing, where tracing is carried out in schools and nursing homes, "is definitely under a lot of pressure at the moment with the return to schools".

"We've seen 28,000 children in the last seven days present for testing - that's children between the ages of 0 and 14 - that's our highest by far.

"They'd be two and a half times any other age group coming forward for testing.

"We're not probably at the peak just yet, and we would expect our testing system - certainly for the rest of this week and into next week - to still be working in those surge numbers".

Main image: Simon Lewis. Picture by: Educate Together

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