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reassuring data Low rates of pupils passing on Covid-19 to school staff, HSE review of schools reveals

The new report offers "reassuring" data on infection risk within schools as thousands of children prepare to return to the classroom

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Schools have a low Covid risk

Schools have a low Covid risk

Schools have a low Covid risk

There was relatively little transmission of Covid-19 from pupils to staff last year, a review of schools from the HSE reveals.

The new report offers "reassuring" data on infection risk within schools as thousands of children prepare to return to the classroom.

However, the level of the highly contagious Delta variant in the community is causing concern.

A public health overview of the Covid experience in schools in 2020-21, published today, confirms they were low-risk settings for Covid once protocols were observed.

School outbreaks - where at least two people are infected - were usually of small scale, with two to three subsequent cases. It was usually friendship groups testing positive.

In-school infection rates were low, and where they occurred, were more likely to be child-to-child, adult-to-adult or adult-to-child.

Therefore there was little transmission from pupils to teachers, an issue which has concerned some staff as they prepare for the new term.

"Transmission was particularly identified amongst close friendship groups for both staff and children," the report states.

"Adult to child transmission was more common in settings where extra assistance was being provided for a child, highlighting the importance of all other mitigation measures when physical distance is not able to be maintained."

The Epidemiological Review of Schools was prepared by Dr Abigail Collins, consultant in public health medicine, Office of the National Clinical Director for Health Protection, and Dr Kevin Kelleher, assistant national director for public health and child health.

The report describes the schools' data as "reassuring".

Almost half of schools (44pc) underwent a public health risk assessment (PHRA) and testing of pupils and/or staff linked to a Covid case.

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Such interventions were most likely to happen at post-primary level, with 69pc of 723 requiring a PHRA, compared with 38pc of primary and 57pc of special schools.

Only 18 of the country's 4,000 schools were told to close for a time because of the public health risk.

PHRAs led to testing, and temporary exclusion from school, of 100,474 close contacts, about 10pc of the school community. More than 90pc were children.

Positivity rates among those tested were 1.8pc (post primary), 2.5pc (primary) and 3.4 pc (special education) compared with 10pc-30pc in the community.

"The evidence shows educational facilities can be low-risk settings for Covid-19 with the clear focused attention to the exclusion of those with symptoms consistent with Covid-19, mitigating measures in place and infection, prevention and control measures as laid out in the national recommendations," it said.

The report notes 35 Leaving Cert candidates were unable to sit one or more exam in June because of Covid infection or being a close contact.

That is out of 55,618 students entered to sit at least one exam. Candidates also had the option of receiving accredited grades.

The response to schools dominated much of the workload of the eight public health departments, and the report raises the prospect of handing over some of this work to schools and other parts of the HSE.

It says the national data and experiences from the school PHRA teams should be used to enable schools and other parts of the HSE to start management of cases and identification of close ­contacts, following agreed protocols.

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