Are schools safe? HSE insists they «should remain open» despite the spread of COVID among children

HSE’s chief medical officer insisted that schools «should remain open» amid the fourth wave of Covid-19.

Dr. Colm Henry was speaking after more than 7,000 school-aged children tested positive for the virus last week.

The latest data from the Health Protection Surveillance Center showed that there were 7,117 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in those aged 5-18 in the previous seven days through Saturday.

Of those cases, 166 were «confirmed» linked to an outbreak in a school or childcare center. Additionally, recent HSE data shows that there have been 30 outbreaks recorded at universities, schools, and childcare facilities last week.

Dr Henry said that despite the large numbers of school-age children currently infected with the virus, Covid is spreading in homes and the community rather than schools.

But at a press conference on Thursday afternoon, Dr. Henry said that while keeping schools open is not without risk, it is important. The general health and well-being of children that schools remain open.

He said, “I would like to say the lesson we learned here…that closing schools has caused great harm.

Dr. Colm Henry, Chief Medical Officer, Health, Safety and Environment; . Pictured this evening (Thursday, February 18) at a press conference on the Covid-19 update at the Ministry of Health.

“I have no doubt that people would agree that the greater good of children, for their general health and well-being, is to keep schools open and keep them in continuing education.

«Of course, it is not without risks. Covid can be acquired in school settings but school settings are becoming more and more controlled.»

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Dr. Henry said that according to the HSE analysis, most children diagnosed with coronavirus are infected outside of school.

«The prevailing impression based on analysis of trends of increase in this age group is that children, for the most part, acquired this, and continued to acquire it, in a home environment,» he said.

«Nearly from the start, community transmission is an important driver, whether it’s in schools or hospitals or nursing homes. It’s coming from the community into these places and not the other way around.»

«Of course, we’re not saying that schools are sterile places and that doesn’t happen there, but it is relatively controlled compared to home places,» he added.

Messages from officials in recent days have been that there is still confidence that schools are «safe,» although that advice has changed in recent days.

A number of schools are understaffed due to positive Covid cases and some schools are closing their doors completely to try to stop the increase in cases.

Speaking to Pat Kenny on Newstalk, Dr. Ronan Glenn claimed on Wednesday that NPHET «never said schools were safe.»

He noted, «What I fully accept is that schools are not as safe now as they were when the infection was lower several months ago. There is no environment as safe now as it was back then. We’ve said that all the time when the incidence is really high in the community, as at the time Currently, schools are not as safe as they could be otherwise.”

However, on Tuesday, Dr. Tony Holohan told Virgin Media News: «We believe that the school environment is, in relative terms, still a safe environment for children.»

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In Thursday’s press update, Health, Safety and Environment Chief Paul Reed warned that we are seeing a «very large wave» of Covid and that there has been a «serious and ongoing escalation» of cases.

He also said that «the health care system is not resilient» and that the high level of transmission in the community is putting pressure on the testing system, hospitals and GPs.

Mr Reed added that we are seeing a high positivity rate of testing, with 16 to 19% positivity.

This was compared to the criteria published by the World Health Organization in May 2020 which stated that a positive rate of less than 5% is an indication that the epidemic is under control in a country.

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