19 children in one class in a Co Wexford school have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the school's principal.
CBS Primary School in Wexford has moved to remote learning until after the mid-term break following a significant outbreak in the school, with around 30 cases identified so far.
Principal Vicky Barron has voiced concern about the lack of HSE contact tracing, saying they've relied on information from parents to get a full idea of the scale of the outbreak.
Recent changes to contact tracing rules mean children who are close contacts of a confirmed case do not need to restrict their movements, as long as they don't have symptoms.
Contact tracing of close contacts in primary schools and testing of asymptomatic close contacts are also no longer required.
However, Ms Barron explained to The Hard Shoulder how her school went from one case to 30 in the space of a week.
Wexford principal on COVID-19 outbreak in her school: 'We've had 19 cases in one class'
She explained: “On Friday 8th October, we got word of our first case, and on Sunday evening we got word of our second. We informed parents both times - parents came back on Sunday to say they’d tested their children with antigen tests, and had tested positive. Those children also stayed at home on Monday.
“When I contacted the HSE, [we were told] there are no close contacts in schools - all of the other children were told to go about their business and come to school as normal.”
PCR tests began confirming the scale of the outbreak in the class over the course of the week, but some siblings of those children had continued attending school until they were deemed a household contact.
Ms Barron said: “The siblings who were in on Thursday were beginning to test positive on Saturday.
"We looked and said if we had one case on a Friday and 30 cases a week later… it would stand to reason given the rate of transmission of the Delta variant… we would be looking at new cases only surfacing today and tomorrow.
“The board of management did the maths and decided the best thing to do was actually instruct everyone to move to remote learning.”
Information and contact tracing
Ms Barron said the school management only knew the extent of the outbreak due to the "absolutely supportive and valuable" information they received from parents, some of whom had opted to get their children tested privately.
She said the board of management chose to let parents know what was happening so they could make an "informed decision" about what was best for their families.
The principal said it's clear cases were coming "from the school into the households" - noting some younger children had become ill after asymptomatic children brought the virus home with them from school.
She observed: "At the end of the day, I have 19 cases in one classroom. The first two children who tested positive were at opposite sides of the classroom.
"Had contact tracing happened, I would have been able to keep most of that class at home and not in school on Monday.
"That would’ve meant they probably would have tested and brought back their positive results earlier, which would have meant their siblings would not have been in school. Therefore, it would have eliminated the possibility of onward transmission in the rest of the school.”
She said the classroom in question did have a CO2 monitor that was read regularly, but "opening windows and doors is not the solution" to guaranteeing proper ventilation in classrooms.
The CBS school in Wexford isn't closed this week, with teachers and SNAs continuing to teach and support children remotely.
However, management hopes to reopen the doors to children after the upcoming mid-term break.
Ms Barron said they're using the gap between now and then as a "circuit breaker", so they'll be ready to go again with in-person classes after Halloween.
Separately, a teachers' union is now calling for public health supports for primary schools to be scaled up.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation wants to see the re-introduction of testing and contact tracing, as well as the expansion of the supply panel for substitute teachers to cover all primary and special schools.
It's also looking for a pilot scheme on antigen testing and a review on the age restriction on face coverings.