August 14, 2022

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Just how many schoolchildren are falling sick with Covid, are close contacts of another pupil...

Just how many schoolchildren are falling sick with Covid, are close contacts of another pupil who got the virus or are having to miss days of classes because they have possible symptoms?
ow many children were hospitalised with the virus last month or had it picked up when admitted with another illness?

Two years into the pandemic and with the reopening experiment under way, vital information – not only for parents, but for the wider public – is missing, leading to anxiety about how education and the health of children is being affected.
We know there were seven outbreaks in schools last week, but this is clearly not the full picture.
The report from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) yesterday admitted that, apart from special education schools and childcare facilities, the other areas of education are not being prioritised for investigation.
Yet school principals and teachers say that around a quarter of pupils are absent due to Covid during any given day, causing major disruption.
The HPSC figures for last week show 3,906 children aged five to 12 were positive for Covid-19 and 1,229 younger children aged four and under had the virus.
The 3,906 cases appear to refer only to those who had PCR laboratory-confirmed cases.
They do not include those who tested positive after a home antigen test.
Since the middle of last month, a confirmatory PCR test has no longer been necessary for anyone aged four to 39 who is outside a risk group.
So what of all those children who tested positive through an antigen test? We have no official figures.
With no contact tracing, except in certain circumstances in primary schools since September, and an absence of proper data, the real picture remains vague.
When it comes to hospitalisations of young children since Omicron hit, there is also a lack of clarity.
We know that serious illness in children who catch Covid-19 is rare.
However, figures obtained by the Irish Independent show that among the under-12s there were 243 Covid-19-related admissions last month. This month, 39 children in this age group were admitted for Covid-19.
Children’s Health Ireland – representing the three children’s hospitals in Dublin at Crumlin, Temple Street and Tallaght – had a rise in admissions of children with Covid-19 from the end of January.
A spokeswoman was unable to say yesterday how many tested positive after admission with another illness or had been placed in critical care.
Each hospital collates its own figures individually and a combined figure was not available yesterday.
This raises questions about how the virus, which could be affecting vulnerable children with underlying illness, is being monitored.
There have been three children with Covid-19 in this hospital group in intensive care for a number of days, but the hospital group cannot say whether they are there directly due to Covid-19 complications.
John Boyle, general secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO), said he believed the “level of infection within the primary school-going population has not been captured properly throughout the current school year”.
He said this had been particularly the case in the months that followed the scrapping of public health risk assessments, contact tracing and PCR testing – hailed as the gold standard by health agencies.
He said that since the easing of most restrictions last month, “more symptomatic pupils have been presenting at schools and adherence to infection prevention and control measures, including the administration of antigen tests, has waned”.
Mr Boyle said it was a “wise move” to allow for protection measures in schools – including the wearing of face masks, which remained in place last month when many other restrictions were eased.
“It is clear that without these protections, many schools would be forced to close for long periods of time,” he added.
Mr Boyle said teachers’ unions were hopeful of meeting public health officials and Department of Education advisers this week to review the first weeks of term and begin planning for what would happen after this month’s mid-term break.
Nphet will meet next week to discuss where the country is as a whole in relation to Covid-19.
It will determine whether to recommend that face masks and other anti-Covid measures remain in schools when pupils return after the mid-term break.
The public will need clear data to understand the rationale behind its decisions.

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