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Covid ‘spread like wildfire’ through school


WRITING’S ON THE WALL HSE Covid 19 safety-guideline signage on the wall of an Irish national school.

Principal denounces ‘scandalous’ withdrawal of contact tracing

Edwin McGreal

Minister for Education Norma Foley’s comments that schools are safe have been branded ‘folly’ by a Mayo principal whose national school recently saw a Covid-19 outbreak.
The principal, who did not want to identify his school, said that over 15 percent of his pupils tested positive for Covid-19, and he appealed for the immediate return of contact tracing in schools.
Contact tracing – whereby a public-health clinician would attend a school with a Covid outbreak and direct the necessary decision making – was discontinued on September 27.
As a consequence, the extent of Covid cases in schools has become unclear, with the Government and NPHET saying schools are safe but confirmed cases in the under 12s suggesting otherwise.

‘Totally avoidable’
“I would not want any other school to have to go through what we had to go through here,” the principal told The Mayo News yesterday (Monday).
“The level of Covid-19 here was totally avoidable. The lack of contact tracing is the big deficit. They can come in and close a pod or a classroom, give it a circuit break and deal with it. I do not have the power to do that. The Department of Education would be down on me like a ton of bricks. Other principals that have done that have been hung out to dry,” he said.
It sticks in the craw of many principals and teachers that schools are described as safe while children are told not to attend birthday parties.
“How is it okay to be in school for five hours and 40 minutes, yet then kids are told they cannot have a party, probably outdoors, with the same children later that evening? The advice is inconsistent.
“It is folly to say schools are safe, as Norma Foley says. They are only as safe as their communities, and it can spread so much faster with unvaccinated kids. We saw that here. When you’ve a cohort of non-vaccinated kids in a school it will spread like wildfire.
“Thankfully case numbers are on the way down, and most importantly all kids are reporting very mild symptoms, such as headaches, coughs, sore throats and sore tummies. But parents have had to take a hit financially by staying at home, and so much of it was avoidable,” he said.

Without contact tracing in place, the principal said he and the Board of Management decided to issue information to parents. Some they spoke to in the HSE complicated their approach, while other HSE officials criticised it.
“We’ve been left to fend for ourselves. We’ve GDPR considerations to be conscious of and then an awareness of health circumstances within households. This is not the road to go down, this is not the role of a school principal to manage. We decided the best approach was to keep families informed via our text system.
“The Government needs to restore what was there. They essentially took away the scaffolding before the building was finished. They’ve let the pandemic run unchecked through a cohort of unvaccinated kids,” he said.
As we spoke on Monday afternoon, the principal was still awaiting return calls from the HSE from calls he made at 9am that morning seeking advice.
“If you get talking to the right people in the HSE they are fantastic, but trying to get them is almost impossible. You could be an hour on the line and then told by the person you get that they don’t have time to talk. The delay in getting advice has been a factor in the high number of cases here.”

“The HSE are stretched and we acknowledge that,” the principal continued. “The Government should not pit schools against the HSE. It is up to the Government departments to put in place the measures to get us out of this crisis. Restore contact tracing and let’s not try to spin the line that schools are safe. It is scandalous there is no contact tracing.”
He praised the response of children, their parents and staff. “Our parents and families have been exceptional at compliance with the advice we’ve given them, going for PCR tests if they’d any doubts,” he said.
Mayo TD Michael Ring (FG) has also called for contact tracing to be brought back.
“Everyone wants schools to remain open – children, parents and teachers. Every single support, including contact tracing, that can be given to schools to remain open should be given,” he said, adding: “Teachers are not being given enough credit for the work they are doing during this pandemic.”